From Russian politics to R&D tax: Andrew McMillan’s career journey

Andrew McMillan

Andrew McMillan

Tax Partner & Head of Innovation Taxes

22 September 2020

With September comes a new intake of university students, and with that, comes Freshers’ Week! While the 2020 line up might look a little different to the Freshers’ events of years past, the coming weeks still mark the beginning of an exciting new journey for students across the country. We caught up with our Senior Tax Manager Andrew McMillan to chat about his own uni days and his career path since then.

Which university did you go to and what did you study?

I’ve actually been twice. The first time, I was 17 and decided to go to Dundee University, despite never having set foot in Dundee in my life – I’d heard good things about the city from friends, so that was enough for me! My degree was in Contemporary European Studies, with a focus on Russian Politics.

What made you go for that?

I genuinely cannot remember what compelled me to choose Contemporary European Studies. The first time around, I was more focused on being able to move away from home and experiencing life as a student than what I was actually studying!

What career path did you think you would follow after you left?

I hadn’t given a future career much thought at all – I just assumed I would get my degree, leave university and get a good job. I was very naïve to life at that point. It was a bit of a wake-up call when I did leave and discovered that the job market was actually very competitive and I should have applied myself more to my studies when I had the chance. I didn’t manage to secure any graduate roles, so I signed up for the Royal Navy as a submariner – unfortunately, just as all the budgets for the Forces were cut! So, with a waiting list that suddenly went from six months to two years, that didn’t work out either. Serendipitously however, I did get a job working in a rugby shop in Dundee which I really enjoyed. The owner taught me a lot about work ethic, business, and the value in really applying yourself to something. That inspired me to go back to university to study Accountancy & Finance.

I enrolled at Abertay University this time, and I’m pleased to report that on returning to academic life, I tried much harder and subsequently found much more success! At the end of my third year, my tax tutor, who also worked for ACCA, said there were tax opportunities at a local accountancy firm she worked with. She arranged an interview for me as a practice run for once I’d passed Honours year – but to my great surprise, I was offered the job. I sought feedback from lots of different people as to whether I should take it or finish up my fourth year of university, and the general consensus was that taking the job and starting my professional exams was the right thing to do.

And what do you do now?

Well that was the beginning of my career in tax, and tax is where I’ve stayed! I knew I wanted to work in finance, and I had enjoyed my tax modules the most, so it’s fortunate that the first opportunity to come up suited me really well. I’m now a Senior Manager in JC’s Innovation Taxes team. I help clients across the firm make claims for Research & Development tax relief, Video Games Tax Relief (VGTR), and under the Patent Box regime. I love the variety the role entails. One day you’re doing something fairly traditional like considering a complex legislative point and how it relates to a particular client’s situation; the next you’re doing something you’d never expect of a tax adviser, such as watching clients demonstrate really exciting areas of cutting-edge technology. One of the things we do is assess whether the work businesses are doing meets the definition of R&D for tax purposes, and I really enjoy that client-facing aspect of being able to go out and see it for myself – though COVID restrictions have put a stop to most of that this year!

Here in Dundee especially, the innovation is incredible; from life sciences, to computer science and software development, to food and drink tech. Going to see Intelligent Growth Solutions, for example, is like walking into the future! And I love the tax side equally as much as the technology side. It’s very rewarding being able to see money flow back into these businesses through the work we’re doing, and seeing how you are directly benefiting the company.

What did your Freshers’ Weeks look like for you?

The two were very different. My first Freshers was focused very much on nightlife and getting to know all the new people around me; the social side of university. The second time, my approach was ‘tell me where I need to be, when I need to be there, how many notepads I’ll need and how many highlighters I should bring’!

What’s your fondest memory of university?

For me it’s definitely the friends I made. The things I look back on most aren’t going to see Mark Owen at The Union (which did happen!) but the nights in, getting to know your flatmates. I have a lot of friendships from both universities which have stood the test of time. Just this weekend past I was out cycling with one of the first people I spoke to when I walked through the door at Dundee University at the age of 17!

What advice would you give the new intake of 2020 freshers?

My younger sister is actually just starting university this month, and what I said to her was: enjoy yourself; don’t be afraid to speak to people; take advantage of the opportunity to live somewhere new and develop a new friendship circle; and make sure you do yourself justice. The worst thing in the world is looking back and wishing you’d tried a little harder!

I also recommend not being too narrow-minded about where your studies might take you. Some of the most interesting and successful people I know are in jobs that have nothing to do with their degrees, so consider wider opportunities.

And finally – if you have the chance to study abroad for a placement year, do it! The experience of a different culture will be invaluable and teach you so much that you can bring back to Scotland.

If your university journey is coming to an end and you're considering options for your future, check our Careers page for information on our graduate positions.