Barbra Bukovac

[Editor’s Note: Join us this week as we celebrate the Women of PwC. Today’s article is the first in a series of five.]

When Barbra Bukovac first took an individual tax class in college, she wasn’t sure tax was the right fit for her. (Raise your hand if you’ve sat in a class and ever felt that way. Full disclosure: We have!) However, an internship at the University of Illinois accounting department led her to a job as an auditor at PwC.

It was in this role that—shocker!—Barbra made her way into the world of tax, working in the international tax group during the firm’s busy season. “At that time, U.S. companies were beginning to expand internationally and it was a growth area for our firm,” she said. “We covered all services pertaining to those companies—from individual tax compliance for officers or those sent overseas on assignment, to corporate tax reporting and planning.”

She loved the work, and the people on her team so much, and PwC offered her the opportunity to stay in the group. She did, and eventually she made partner in international tax. Now, 25 years later, she serves as the U.S. Tax Sectors Leader for PwC. Prior to this role, she served as the firm’s tax leader for the U.S. Retail and Consumer Products Industry, where she was responsible for facilitating relationships with clients.

And as a passionate mentor within the company, Barbra recently wrote an article on Medium called, “Take It From Me, Don’t Assume: Why I Left PwC and Why I Came Back.” Intriguing? We thought so too, and at I Want Her Job we’re huge fans of her ideology to work with a company to make a job work better for you. (Once you’re strongly established, of course.) Read on to hear more about Barbra’s take on this concept, how she did it and her advice to you for building inner courage, too.

Everyone contributes to brand building, no matter what level they are in a company, and the same is true here at PwC.

What was your first job?

My very first job was working as a hostess at a pancake restaurant. I was the first person that our customers would see when they walked in the door. I was also the last person that they would see, because I was the cashier as well. It was a great learning experience for me in terms of being involved with consumers at a very early age. It helped me recognize the importance of being friendly and inviting to customers who came in the door. That “first face” is very important for most organizations because it can really set the tone.

Then once I realized how much the waitresses were getting paid [she laughs], I moved on to becoming a waitress. I recognized that position required many of the same skills and approach—such as being outgoing and service-oriented.

What is a lesson you learned in that first job that still sticks with you today?

Courteous client centric service. The skills you develop through helping others can go a long way in building the brand of an organization. Everyone contributes to brand building, no matter what level they are in a company, and the same is true here at PwC.

Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in accounting?

I went to the University of Illinois and their business program is well regarded, specifically the accounting program. It was the internship I had with the University of Illinois’ accounting office that went a long way in terms of helping me decide on a career in accounting. The first tax class I took wasn’t until my senior year and I really didn’t like it to be quite honest.

When I first started my job at PwC—then Price Waterhouse—I was an auditor. I was asked to go to the international tax group to help them during busy season. During that time, international tax was basically any company that had international operations, or a foreign company that has U.S. operations as well. We covered all services pertaining to those companies—from individual tax compliance for officers or those sent overseas on assignment to corporate tax reporting and planning. I found the variety really interesting. Companies were also just starting to expand internationally so it was definitely a growth area for the firm. Even though I had not gone overseas before, I thought it was a great practice to be in and I really loved the work and the people I was working with. They offered me the opportunity to stay and that’s how I got into the international tax practice—where I stayed and later made partner.

At the end of the day when you place your head on the pillow, what aspect of your work leaves you with the most fulfillment?

Tax is an area where we can be proactive in helping our clients. I’m drawn to the consulting side of the business—assisting companies with deals, thinking through complex business issues, strategizing and collaborating on solutions. Constant change from a technology, business and customer perspective continues to make the work extremely challenging! So much of what I love about my job is helping the company I’m consulting with to be more successful.

Being that you have so much international work that can fall in different time zones, how do you organize your day?

I don’t have a typical day. That’s another thing I love about my job. I can have a standing agenda, but there are going to be things that hit in a day that I won’t know are coming. It’s exciting. I really like that piece because it allows me to use my expertise and experience to work through those issues.

But in terms of a “typical day” if I’m home, or even on the road, I always exercise in the morning. It’s an important part of getting my day going. Today, for example, I was in New York, so I went over to Central Park and ran. Exercising gives me energy and allows me to think. Generally I exercise on my own, so it’s also my alone time to really think about issues I’m dealing with and how I’m going to handle them. I really appreciate that time, and it’s important for me. I also always have a cup of coffee before I go for a run.

After that, my time is filled with phone calls—a lot of phone calls. I’m on the phone all day or in meetings. I still work with a lot of clients, but my two major clients are located outside of [my home base in] Chicago, so I do travel quite a bit to be on site.  If I’m not physically there, I’m on the phone with them or in the Chicago [PwC] office. When I am working in Chicago, I try to be home in time for dinner. It doesn’t mean I’m cooking dinner, but I’m home for dinner so I can catch up with my family.

On that topic, in the recent Medium article you wrote, you discussed the importance of ‘letting go’ of housework, cooking, etc. What advice do you have for other women who are struggling with this concept of asking and hiring others to help?

People do struggle with asking others to help. I recognized that a while ago when I was in a meeting that PwC put together for some of the working moms. We would get together, have lunch and just talk. I remember feeling so surprised that people felt they had to do their own housework, cooking, etc. I always looked at it differently.

I feel like everybody has a stress cup. I think of this cup as a measurement of how much stress one can have in their life without feeling crazy. My stress cup has been filled with dealing with work and having time for my family. Those are the activities that I enjoy and need to focus on. The other stuff—like having an organized closet—I’ve realized, I don’t need to focus on. As I’ve progressed in my career and my girls have gotten older, the commitments that are important to me have changed. So I’ve changed what’s in my cup. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the amount of stress my cup can handle.

What is something you hope to teach your daughters about balancing work and life?

I recently asked one of my daughters what she felt she’s learned from both her dad and me and was very happy with her response. She said that she had learned the importance of sharing responsibilities—from a work, house and family perspective. We’re in it 50/50.

It’s also true for both my husband and I. Our jobs have been very important, but we’ve never said that one person’s job is more important than the other’s job. At times we’ve both had to make tough decisions, such as where I’ve had to pull back so he can go forward, and vice versa. We let each other know what our schedules are, and we figure out how we’re going to balance everything. We also recognize that it’s nice to have each of us in the workforce, because it has allowed us to take more risk in certain areas—knowing that we each had our own jobs.

As a result of us both having time-consuming careers, we really did have to figure out from a housework perspective, how we were going to handle it all. I think my husband and I both gravitated toward making household contributions that we felt the most comfortable with. For example, my husband organizes our calendar, pays our bills and writes correspondence—even on my behalf! [She laughs.] On the other hand, I make sure the girls have their lunches, laundry is done and we have groceries in the fridge.

That’s something we’ve instilled in the girls. They recognize that they want to be treated equally in terms of their relationships with their future spouses and their careers. They’re very confident and independent. They know they have the ability to do anything. Watching the way my husband and I balance work and home makes them feel more certain that they’ll be able to do it too.

Also in your Medium article you discuss the importance of making an ‘ask’ of others. How did you get up the courage to ask PwC for an 80% work schedule, and what advice do you have for fellow women looking to make a big ask themselves?

I was a partner when I went on to an 80% schedule at PwC. So that may be why I had the courage to ask for it. I had seen other partners in my office who were on those schedules, so I felt it was acceptable at that point. Since then, PwC has created more programs to help others become more comfortable requesting flexible or part-time work arrangements. They recognize that people want to continue to work, but maybe work less and with less responsibility.

It was clear that this had to be a good arrangement for me and for PwC. I was most worried about whether it was going to work—especially in a professional services role where clients might need something. It couldn’t be that I was working more but only getting paid 80%, and from the firm’s perspective, they needed to see the value too.

Pulling this off required a lot of proactive communication. I think in most situations everyone wants this to work – the clients, the company and the person. However, you have to be proactive in explaining that you can’t do a meeting on Friday because it’s your day out of the office, but you’re happy to do it Monday or on Thursday. When you give choices, usually people say that’s fine. If they don’t, then maybe you do the meeting on Friday. However, once you set the tone, most people will respect your schedule. Ultimately, you have to protect your schedule and be firm, yet recognize that you’re still in the client services industry.

I’d love to grab coffee with: Rafa Nadal.
My favorite quote is: “I’ve learned that people forget what you said, forget what you did, but they never forget the way you made them feel.”
If I could tell my 30-year-old-self one thing, it would be: To play golf—now!
My favorite show to binge-watch is: House of Cards.
I can’t live without: Coffee first thing in the morning.
My favorite way to unwind is: Running and cranking up my iTunes playlist to sing to.
I feel my best when: I’m wearing a new dress.

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