If you meet Miguel Juarez Mendieta at a party, he won’t try to talk to you about taxes. Unless, that is, you want him to.
“Tax is a hard topic—nobody likes it at all,” he jokes. “But to be honest with you, it’s not that bad. Actually, for me, it’s kind of entertaining and fun.”
As director of international tax for Marriott International, Juarez Mendieta oversees nearly 180 tax filings annually for business entities and hotels in Latin America and Canada. He discovered an interest in taxes during a lesson on corporate tax structure at his alma mater, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). His teacher saw his potential and encouraged him to pursue the field, but he took the first opportunity that came along: working as an auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in his native Mexico City.
While it wasn’t his ideal role at the time, it turned out to be a good move. “One of the partners had advised me, ‘Working at PwC is an investment in your professional career that will help you in the future.’ And that was true,” he says.
He stayed ten years at PwC, becoming a senior audit manager specializing in the pharmaceutical sector and earning his CPA for Mexico along the way. While there, he met his wife, Haydee, who still works there, and the couple now have two daughters, Sophia and Victoria. “They are my everything,” he says. “Sometimes you have a hard day, but I know when I arrive at home I will see their faces and that will change everything.”
He also had the chance to pay his early mentor’s advice forward, managing about thirty people and having responsibility for their professional development. “I love coaching young people, and PwC gave me that opportunity,” he says.
His own professional development paid off, too. In 2013, he learned that Marriott was looking for a tax manager with experience in Latin America. The job description added that having a CPA for Mexico was a plus. “I didn’t know that opportunities like this would be open to me. However, I was prepared,” he said. “Even when I made my professional career as an auditor, I got my certification in taxes, and that helped me, I think, for getting this job.”
Juarez Mendieta, who also has an MBA from Florida International University, sees education as crucial to advancement and being ready when the opportunities come. “Learning is the key element to accomplishing your goals,” he says. “People and organizations are constantly changing, so be prepared. Give yourself the advantage to adapt to those changes.”
Change, he says, is a constant in taxes, and one of the factors that does warrant their reputation for being difficult. “Normally, we have tax reforms in countries every two or three years. Some countries in Latin America change the corporate taxes every single year,” he explains. “When you finally understand the tax rules, when you finally understand how to calculate something, new regulation is coming.”
Again, Juarez Mendieta stresses the importance of education when it comes to staying on top of the regulations. He says Latin American rules, particularly those in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, tend to be more complex than those in the US, and in many countries, the tax laws change with the political party in power. “It’s really just pay attention to the rules, be open to the changes, and read—read too much,” he says, laughing. “Sometimes people believe that in Latin America the tax person is [meant to help you] pay less taxes. No, no. It is for helping you file the tax return and in compliance.”
Being part of a multinational organization further complicates tax compliance and filing, but Juarez Mendieta enjoys working on the strategy behind how Marriott should file in each country. He also finds Marriott to be an innovative company that cares about its employees.
“One the main core values of this company is ‘put people first,’ which means take care of the employees, because if you do that, they will take care of the client, and the client will return to the hotel,” he says. He also appreciates the option to work from home—which is now Weston, Florida—and a generous paternity leave that allowed him to be with his wife and daughter Victoria after she was born—especially since they needed to stay in the hospital longer than expected.
Juarez Mendieta continues to coach and educate those around him, giving regular trainings for Marriott’s directors of finance on the latest tax developments. He’s seen former employees of his go on to big success, including one who is now a CFO in Mexico. “I am really proud that I could share my knowledge with others and they could reach the goal that they wanted,” he says. “If you help people, that is something that is priceless—something that is forever.”