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In the Field

A Head for Numbers

Kate Barton is that rare person who uses “tax” and “fun" in the same sentence.

Photograph by Christopher Churchill

Pocket Résumé

Kate Barton ’87: From “humble origins” in Brighton, Massachusetts, to Americas Vice Chair for Tax Services with Ernst & Young. Challenges: Staying true to the overall agenda because every week brings a new “crisis.” Location: New York, New York. Passion: Spending time with her family, including her mother, three siblings, and beloved nieces and nephews, all still close to home in Boston.

Kate Barton ’87 oversees 13,000 people and $4 billion dollars in business as Americas Vice Chair for Tax Services with Ernst & Young (EY). It’s a daunting task by any measure, but Barton is quick to credit her success to the people she works with, the clients they serve, and—no joke—her local Upper West Side SoulCycle studio, where she heads every morning at 5 a.m. to let loose and cycle fast.

“You have to have a good team or you can’t do your job,” says Barton, who found her way to EY thirty years ago through a BC Law friend, Ed Hanley ’86. “Ed had spent a summer at the firm, which was then called Ernst & Whinney. He took my résumé to his office and helped me to get an internship for the summer after my first year of law school.”

That 1985 internship changed the direction of her life. “I thought I would go into business law,” recalls Barton, who majored in business and accounting in college and had impressively passed the Massachusetts CPA exam during her senior year. “But I kept working for the firm, and as it started to build out a specialized international tax group, it just fit.”

At the time, Barton was one of a few women in the Boston office; she went on to become the first woman tax partner there. She was also the first tax managing partner for a geographical region (New England) and, today, is the only woman vice chair for tax services among the “big four” accounting firms.

“When I started, all of the meetings, with both my colleagues and clients, were men and me,” she says. “Now, 50 percent of EY staff are women and they make up 51 percent of our tax practice. EY has made supporting and promoting women a priority.”

Barton heads a practice that covers all aspects of a company’s tax life cycle, including compliance, reporting, tax accounting, planning, and controversy in North, South, and Central America as well as Israel.

“When people meet me, they can’t believe I do tax,” she says with characteristic exuberance. Quick to laugh and down to earth, Barton views her work as a kind of game. “For me, it’s about solving complicated puzzles. My law degree helps me reason through problems and understand regulations. What’s fun is that I’ve always enjoyed coming up with tax structures that fit our clients’ businesses.”

Today, mentorship is one of her key focuses as a leader, particularly as the executive sponsor for the EY Black Professional Network, one of the firm’s many affinity groups.

“EY has a special culture that is conducive to mentorship, sponsorship, and opportunity,” she explains. “I grew up in Brighton, from very humble origins. The first twenty-five years of my career were about getting to where I needed to go. I tell people that, on one hand, you should always be reaching up the career ladder. On the other, you should be reaching down to lift others up. Now that I’m in my legacy period, one of my top goals is helping young people to achieve success. It is one way to make the working world better.”