Bill Roth knows international taxes

March 22, 2010
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Bill Roth, a tax consultant with BDO Seidman LLP, will always warmly remember June 19, 2002 — and not because Congress eliminated the tax code or because corporate taxes were repealed. No, something much better happened to him that day.

That was the day his wife, Colleen, presented him with four new babies and, of course, four new tax deductions.

In a highly uncommon but glorious event, the Roths became proud parents of three boys and one girl on that June day. Will, Colin, Aishlin and Braden came to them in that order and within minutes of each other.

“We knew in December of 2001 when we had gone in for an ultrasound and we saw four heartbeats. Literally, when the doctor was looking at the ultrasound he said, ‘Holy crap, there’s four heartbeats!’ So that’s how we found out,” said Roth with a hearty laugh.

“We reconciled that maybe we would have twins, seeing a number of our friends had twins. But four was not in the point of comprehension at that time. So we had a number of months to adjust and get ready. The good news, I guess, is that we were never preconditioned with just one child and then had to go to multiples. We started right out of the block with the four.”

For years, Bill and Colleen had volunteered at their place of worship, Holy Spirit Catholic Church, and the parishioners there decided to return the favor after the babies were born. Roth said at least 150 of them, from college students to grandparents, came over to help take care of the quadruplets for much of their first year. That assistance became even more invaluable when Bill underwent a bone-marrow transplant for a blood disorder later that year and was hospitalized in Chicago for four months.

“So 2002 was an incredible year in our lives from all that was going on,” he said.

BILL ROTH

Company: BDO Seidman LLP
Title: Partner and head of international tax practice
Age: 49
Birthplace: Annapolis, Md.
Residence: Grand Rapids
Family: Wife, Colleen; quadruplets Will, Colin, Aishlin and Braden
Business/Community Organizations: American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants, West Michigan World Trade Association, Grand Rapids Jaycees, Junior Achievement of Greater Grand Rapids and St. John’s Home.
Biggest Career Break: Working with Terry Kelly at BDO Seidman.

Roth has been at BDO Seidman for 26 years, having joined the firm in 1984. Today, he is a partner and serves as the company’s technical reviewer for its international tax practice.

As a student, he thought at first that law might be his field of choice. But after enjoying a few accounting classes, he changed his mind.

“At that time, too, when I was probably starting out my freshman year at community college, I knew that Aquinas had a topnotch accounting program based upon how their graduates were scoring on the CPA exam. So I made it my goal to go to Aquinas,” he said.

Roth earned his accounting degree from Aquinas College after two years at what was then Grand Rapids Junior College, and passed the CPA exam. That was in 1983, a year when the job market was tight, as the nation reeled from the effects of a lingering recession. But Roth found work the next year at BDO in its Saginaw office.

After a few years, he transferred to the Grand Rapids office and began working with Terry Kelly, a prominent tax guy at the firm who also wrote the Money Matters column for what was a fledgling Grand Rapids Business Journal. Roth said working with Kelly, who retired from BDO last year, was the biggest break he has had in his professional career.

“I got to work under Terry and he was a great mentor, both professionally and personally. Of any break I may have had, it was really working for him. At that point, he worked on some of the larger clients in the office, but just his style, how he did things, how he worked and how he taught … he was a great teacher. There is just no type of replacement when you have that type of mentor in your life. He and I still keep in touch,” said Roth, who followed in Kelly’s footprints by taking over the Money Matters column.

Because he has been in the profession for so long and because he is familiar with tax systems in other nations, Roth has seen a lot of taxes. And of all the taxes he has come across, none mystifies him more than the value-added tax.

“I see it as a tax that is very compliance-heavy because you need a lot of people to kind of monitor it, as at each step of the way the tax is levied. Every person who touches a product or a service has to report the tax. It certainly seems to tie up a lot of resources in terms of handling the compliance function to report,” he said

“Typically, if a supplier provides a raw material to a manufacturer, they have to levy the value-added tax on that transaction. When the manufacturer sends it to the distributor, they have to put a value-added tax on the price that it is sending to the distributor. Then when the distributor gets it to the retailer, there is a tax there. Then the retailer charges it to the end customer. In each step of the way, everyone has to report their different component, and that has baffled me in some ways because that seems there has to be a lot of people doing a lot of work.”

Some countries in Western Europe enforce a value-added tax, but the U.S. doesn’t. So how does this nation’s tax system generally stack up against those in other countries?

“I think U.S. rates now tend to be higher than the rates in our other major trading partners. That might be in part because some of them do have the value-added tax, so they have a different stream of tax revenue,” said Roth.

“When some companies are making decisions, at least international companies, on where to locate, I think we’ve got to be careful from a policy standpoint of where some of our tax rates are, as compared to the rest of the world, because it could make us less competitive from a pure tax perspective. In the U.S., especially on the corporate side, our rates tend to be a bit higher than most of our trading partners.”

Roth was born 49 years ago in Annapolis, Md., in the Naval Academy hospital. “I understand they don’t do births there anymore. Since my father was in the U.S. Air Force, they had choices of medical facilities, and for some reason my mother chose the U.S. Naval Academy hospital,” he said.

“It’s a little bit different. So even though I’ve never been in the Navy, I still have a little bit of this connection when I’m watching the Army-Navy games because I was born in the Naval Academy hospital — and I was actually born on the day of the Army-Navy (football) game, by the way.”

Roth’s parents weren’t the only ones to celebrate that day. It was a big day for the academy, as well, as the Navy’s Midshipmen sunk the Army’s Cadets at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium by a 17-12 score.

Bill, Colleen and their four children live on the west side of Grand Rapids. Except for his earliest years, he has been a Westsider all his life. Bill attended elementary school at Holy Spirit and high school at West Catholic. Colleen grew up on the city’s east side and attended St. Thomas Elementary and Catholic Central High School.

“So that makes things interesting,” he said of their local alliances. “She graduated in the same class, in 1979. I think ours was the last year, or second to the last year, where they did the combined graduations for Catholic and West (Catholic). So Colleen and I were literally in the same graduation ceremony. But we didn’t meet till a lot later — another 10 or 12 years later — and we didn’t start dating for many years after that.”

Before giving birth to the quads, Colleen worked in sales in the plastics industry. Now she is a full-time mom who still does volunteer work at Holy Spirit. Bill met her while both were in the Grand Rapids Jaycees, back when it sponsored the city’s Senior PGA golf tournament. Both worked on the 1995 tourney and then began dating. Two years later, they were married at St. Thomas and held their reception at the Public Museum’s brand new facility, the Van Andel Museum Center — a setting they both enjoyed.

“We were always joking that this would be a nice place for a wedding reception. Well, we happened to be vacationing in Ireland in the fall of 1996 and she popped a comment to me one day saying, ‘Hey by the way, remember how you said the Van Andel Museum would be nice for a reception?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ She said, ‘Well, they’ve got two dates available a year from now in October.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s interesting, dear, but what about the church?’” he recalled.

“She said, ‘Well, since my mom is the church secretary at St. Thomas, those two dates are already reserved.’ So then I said, ‘You’ve already reserved the museum for those two dates?’ She said, ‘Yes, we have to decide which one we want.’ She essentially told me the month and gave me a choice of two weekends,” said Roth with a laugh. “We had been kind of talking about getting married, but she decided to advance it a bit.”

Roth spends most of his free time with Colleen and the kids, who have discovered T-ball, soccer, golf and basketball. Aishlin plays those sports along with the boys and also does gymnastics. But for the Roth kids, life is more than sports.

“Colleen and I have been very good at trying to find some specific activities. I think they did one of the zoo school’s programs for a week or two, not this past summer but the summer before. We’ve tried to find some different activities to kind of give them a good exposure to a number of different things and not try to peg them into anything at this point,” he said.

Both the Roths remain involved with activities at Holy Spirit. In fact, Bill and GVSU Athletic Director Tim Selgo are co-chairing the parish’s capital campaign.

As for the immediate future, Roth said he didn’t see many professional or personal changes looming over the horizon for him.

“From a tax professional standpoint, it’s probably going to be waiting to actually see what ultimately comes out of Washington with the health care proposal; what’s going to happen with some of these tax proposals that may or may not sunset; and some of the tax policy things and how these are going to impact our clients and other taxpayers,” he said.

“On the personal level, it’s probably just the different things that come from being a parent and having four in the same grade.”

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