Karl Muller (58) is a chartered accountant specialising in taxation, and is the International Tax Director at Unilever Industry and Trading Company based in Istanbul, Turkey, which manufactures food products. Highly experienced and qualified His focus at Unilever is on corporate income tax, indirect taxes and transfer pricing. “I have been in the fast moving consumer goods industry since 2005, and have been fortunate enough to spend time in both Singapore and Turkey in my current role as tax director”, says Karl. Born in Pretoria, Karl grew up in Centurion and attended Lyttleton Primary School, then Grey College where he matriculated in 1977. “I was a boarder at Grey College and it was there that I really learned to become independent, and many of the values I have were instilled there”, says Karl. An average scholar who enjoyed sport more than academics, Karl nevertheless worked hard enough to get university entrance. “Our headmaster always used to say, ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, but I probably overdid the play part”, he laughs. Karl aspired to becoming a pilot after his first flight in a small private plane at the age of 10. “Unfortunately I failed my medical in the selection process to join the South African Air Force and that meant I had to consider other options.” An aptitude test pointed him in the direction of economics, so while doing his compulsory military training, he enrolled in economics and private law at UNISA, paying for his studies with his meagre military wages. Discovering his passion “I learn better if I can resolve issues myself, so I decided to continue studying through UNISA, but I had to find a job, so I worked as a cashier at Van Schaik’s bookstore and then joined a small auditing firm owned by the son of our neighbours. I had never done any accountancy, but I found I loved working with numbers, and working
full time allowed me to pay my own way through university”, says Karl. After completing his BCompt degree and BCompt (Hons)/CTA, he wrote and passed the PAAB Board exam in 1985, about the same time completing his articles. “I began immediately practising as a chartered accountant. I really enjoyed Income Tax, probably because I like law more than accounting”, he says. In 1990, he obtained his MCom Taxation degree cum laude, coming first in the class of 20. In 2000 he enrolled for the HDip International Tax Law programme at the University of Johannesburg, completing it cum laude in the same year. “I was exposed to an excellent group of lecturers who really contributed to my passing
KARL MULLER international tax specialist at Unilever
that are beyond my control. And I don’t dwell on failures
with distinction. It was very sad to hear of the passing of Prof Lynette Olivier, who was an inspiration”, says Karl. Karl sees one of his strengths as the ability to work on his own. “I’ve always been a self-starter. UNISA is seen as tough because you’re studying on your own, but doing it this way gave me much greater analytical and thinking skills, and enabled me to deal with complex issues without feeling overwhelmed. In the business arena, this has helped me to explain complex issues in a simple manner”, he says. Karl says he always tries to find the positive in any situation, or at least a lesson he can learn from it. “Being an introvert I sometimes withdraw to find space and time to think through the difficulty. I also do not try and change things
but see them as learning opportunities”, he says. The future Karl will be returning to South Africa in July to take on a different dimension of work for Unilever. “The tax world is changing and so must multinationals, to deal with not only the challenges of the fast changing tax environment, but also the rapid changes in the world of business”, he says. Once he retires, Karl plans to get involved in programmes such as those run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the African Tax Administration Forum that help develop tax authorities. He also wants to pursue his hobbies, art and photography.
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