Celebrating successful women: Interview with Manon Capel, Global Head of Tax at Swissport

Author Rebecca Sheehan
April 24, 2024

International Women’s Day (IWD) is dedicated to highlighting the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of females in the workplace.

To celebrate IWD this year, in the past months we interviewed a series of successful women – discussing their careers and empowering others to get ahead in their industry.

Inspired by this year’s theme, “Investing in women: Accelerate progress”, we sat down with Manon Capel, Global Head of Tax at Swissport – a Swiss multinational and the world’s leader in airport ground services and air cargo handling.

Manon is based in Luxembourg and is responsible for all taxes globally, managing an agile global tax team across the US, Amsterdam and Madrid.

Before Swissport, she led the Global Tax Function of Upfield, a global leader in plant-based nutrition and a spin-off of Unilever acquired by KKR in 2018. In her early career Manon worked for the Big Four in Amsterdam and Paris and attended a leadership program at Harvard Business School.

Manon is passionate about bringing people together and an advocate for strengthening women in tax leadership roles.

Can you tell us about your role? What you love most and do you have any career highlights?

I work for Swissport, the global market leader in aviation services operating in 45 countries and servicing 300+ airports globally.

Swissport being a service provider where value provided to the customer is very important, is very focused on value creation delivered with limited resources, this requires us to work agile and proactively. I love this style of working – it really focuses the mind and highlights the importance of working style and culture when making decisions. It’s not only about what you know, but also how you work.

For example, when making hiring decisions, I pay particular attention to soft skills in addition to hiring for tax technical knowledge. The sector and my role have changed dramatically compared to ten years ago. The only constant is the change and the challenges it creates, but I really thrive in this type of environment.

“Every day we can make an impact and with the fast-changing tax legislation landscape and the even faster developments in technology it’s a whole new world for the tax function!”

A highlight of my role (now and previously) is being able to mentor and lead the people in my tax team to ensure they each reach their full potential. I also feel a pay-it-forward responsibility to bring women further for tax leadership roles. The multiple layers of skills needed means they are perfectly well suited for it.

Women can be great listeners. They can also be attentive and have a great antenna for a wide scope of challenges across the business. In my experience women tend to be highly adaptable and great multitaskers when needed. All these aspects make them perfect candidates for a tax leadership role.

Why did you want to become a tax professional?

My love of travelling inspired me to do something which was broader than just the Netherlands and my aspirations were truly international. My studies brought me to international tax. It complemented my background in law combined with a more international outlook and that made me fall in love with it. Working in an international environment with so many different countries, tax systems and also cultures to manage you must be able to think in a broader more multifaceted way.

When I joined Ernst & Young in the mid-nineties, I was working in the team of a very unique female international Tax Partner who eventually became my mentor. She probably still doesn’t know how much impact she made on me. She had a very thorough international tax knowledge which she seamlessly combined with out-of-the-box thinking, which I admired. She had her own unique professional way of getting things done in what was then a very male-dominated environment. This positive role model gave me further validation that I had found my path.

“In my in-house role I could further develop my skills and I now often see myself more as a mediator than a Global Head of Tax.”

Navigating a complex technical environment like international tax law means that you need to be able to connect with a variety of people across all continents and cultures and explain complex challenges in a simple and understandable way.

The joy of getting things done by bringing everyone together and bringing out the best in people as opposed to merely being a tax technical resource makes me feel sure that I have found my ideal career.

What do you value most about working in tax?

The aspects I value most about working in tax are the leadership aspects, the fact that I’m able to stretch my brain on technical challenges and the impact I made through my work.

I enjoy facilitating collaboration and supporting individuals on their career journeys. Acting as a mentor and providing people with guidance gives me the opportunity to witness the growth and eventual success of young individuals, potentially seeing them ascend to leadership positions themselves and I am proud to witness their achievements.

“The best outcome that I could hope for is to teach my junior team members so they will be equipped with everything they need to eventually take on a Head of Tax role themselves.”

I also really enjoy continuously challenging myself because I like new things. I have a nerdy interest in what new tax technology tools can do for us and there is so much out there. While at Upfield, we basically built the company from scratch in 18 months including all its ERP systems over more than 100 countries – a mammoth task!

I managed to get tax a seat at the design table and before we knew it, we took on a large-scale S4H design and implementation project and I remember asking myself, “Why am I doing this? Why am I deep in SAP and tax engines?” In hindsight I am so glad I took the challenge because many of my “traditional” tax peers did not have such a learning opportunity and I can say that it truly improved and strengthened the tax function in many business discussions.

Throughout my 30-year career I have learned that I am most happy if I am in a position where I can make an impact through what I am doing in a company. That is the reason why I always tend to gravitate to somewhat challenging companies and new functions. Building a new tax team basically gives you a blank sheet of paper and you can start designing it as you like. Nowadays tax almost always gets a seat at the C-suite table (if not, fight for it) and you get the opportunity to drive the value of a business in real-time every single day.

The beauty about tax is that there are always large numbers at stake, large savings but also, if not properly managed, large risks. If you enjoy stretching your brain with an agile approach and you favour impact, you can really flourish in an in-house tax role. Being in an in-house role, tax really offers a wonderful commercial exposure and the opportunity to think strategically across different business functions.

What key skills do you think tax leaders need to be successful?

To thrive in tax in an agile environment, you must hire people different to yourself. My hiring strategy is to onboard people with skillsets I don’t have and I think that is the reason why female-led teams have the potential to be successful in many ways. I am not afraid of hiring someone who is smarter in certain areas than I am – that is exactly the reason why I hire them.

“You also need to be solution-driven to be a successful tax leader.”

There will be plenty of obstacles along the way, and discussing this with your CFO or senior leadership is ok, but you need to be driven by looking for solutions as opposed to being preoccupied with obstacles.

Another aspect is the ability to make decisions quickly. If faced with a question, sometimes you can only be 80% right. And this is not always a comfortable feeling. But you must adapt to this and learn to be decisive and trust your judgement.

The tax landscape, legislation and the economy are always changing. To be a great tax leader, you have to be willing to move with these changes and to invest in technology or skillsets to adapt. There will be many situations where you will have to do things differently from how you’ve previously done them.

In light of International Women’s Day, what advice do you have for women considering a career in tax or trying to get ahead in the industry?

Women have so much potential in this new era of the new Global Head of Tax role as it complements some fabulous female personality traits. The role has changed dramatically in the last few decades and requires different skills beyond just tax technical knowledge.

“Many women are innately adaptable, excellent communicators, solution-driven and good listeners. All perfect ingredients for a successful tax leader.”

My advice for women in tax would be to always be yourself, because you already have everything inside to be a successful Head of Tax. Be brave, highlight you and your team’s accomplishments, they are significant and noteworthy! Ensure your and your team’s visibility, find your voice and hold your space.

Honestly speaking, there are still not so many women in these roles. This can work for you rather than against you. In my whole career, I never thought that being a woman was a downside, on the contrary, it gives you this edge and people will probably remember you more easily. Vive la difference!


Get in touch with us if you’d like to discuss your career or hiring needs.

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