When Michelle Kane sets her mind on something, you better believe it will happen. After graduating from the University of Florida with a M.S. in Accounting, Michelle moved to Atlanta and worked at PwC for three years before fulfilling her dream of living and working internationally. Today, Michelle is the tax and accounting manager at Ontra, where she plays a critical role in building the company’s tax strategy and ensuring compliance with state, federal, and international regulations.
In celebration of strong and inspiring women, Ontra sat down with Michelle to discuss her journey to Ontra, fulfilling her dreams, and why it’s important to always bet on yourself.
Few people can say they lived their dream. Tell us more about how you ended up living and working in the Netherlands.
It was always my dream to live and work abroad. After my fiancé and I visited some friends living in Amsterdam, I decided it was time to just do it. At the time, my fiancé was working for Delta Air Lines, which had a joint venture with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Fortuitously, he was selected for an expat position working on Delta’s JV, based in Amsterdam, and I secured a position on Deloitte Amsterdam’s international tax team as the first international hire in that group.
After a year with Deloitte, I moved into an in-house role at TomTom, the Dutch multinational developer and creator known for its maps for automated and autonomous driving and navigation software. At TomTom, I managed the taxes for 48 entities in 35 countries. It was a challenging and rewarding experience managing tax compliance and international transfer pricing in so many countries. I also had the opportunity to work with a truly diverse set of colleagues.
What brought you to Ontra?
My fiancé got accepted into Harvard Business School, so that brought us back to the States. During admitted students’ weekend, Harvard randomly paired us with another couple for dinner. Fortunately, we were paired with Elizabeth Black (Ontra’s vice president of talent) and her husband, with whom we hit it off. A few months later, I had an offer from Deloitte, but Elizabeth convinced me to also interview with Ontra. After going through the interview process and meeting so many smart and talented people, Ontra won out!
We are celebrating strong women this month. And it takes a strong woman to make her presence felt in a male-dominated industry. Tell us more about your experience in M&A tax.
Working in a male-dominated field like M&A tax came with its challenges. Highly ranked women were often described as callous and unpleasant and, like in many other industries, often had to choose between their careers and having a family. Those who chose their careers were spread super thin and had no work-life balance. As a result, women mentors were extremely rare. One of the things that made me realize I didn’t want to stay at Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, EY, KPMG) was I couldn’t picture myself in the shoes of any of the women who were my superiors.
In the absence of female career mentors, who would you say has been an inspiration to you outside of work?
My aunt. She’s an attorney out of Florida and an absolute wonder woman. Career-wise, she started her own firm and now has multiple offices across the state. But beyond that, she’s deeply involved in her community, has four children and a bunch of grandkids, attends concerts/events on the weekends, and is often trotting the globe. She juggles a lot but is rarely overly stressed as she has mastered the art of delegating. She enjoys life to the fullest each and every day by making sure she’s present when she’s not working. We can all learn something about living life with joy from my Aunt Jeanne.
Speaking of learning, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? And on the flip side, what’s the piece of advice you always give to others?
I love this Maya Angelou quote: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I think it’s so important to try and be nice to others even if they aren’t giving you the same level of courtesy or respect. You truly never know what someone is going through, so always give the benefit of the doubt.
As for the advice I give others, I really like this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, ‘It can’t be done.’” I say stick to your gut and push yourself because anything is possible. I dreamed of living internationally but was skeptical it would actually come to fruition. But I can tell you that it’s 100% worth the effort to try. If you put your mind to just about anything, I firmly believe you can do it. Don’t let others tell you otherwise. It’s only impossible if you are willing to accept defeat.
Tell us more about yourself outside of the work environment. What do you enjoy doing?
I’m a fisherwoman! My father was a longline fisherman, so growing up, we were always exposed to fishing and spent our vacations in the Florida Keys. I love deep-sea fishing, lobstering, spearfishing, and underwater photography. I’m currently living in Boston but twice a year I go down to the Florida Keys to go fishing and diving. On average, we’re out on the water for six to eight hours per day when we’re big game fishing (sailfish, swordfish, and tunas) or three to four hours if we’re fishing for smaller fish (grouper and snapper).
Fishing and boating with my family are some of the things I missed most while living in the Netherlands. In fact, I missed these things so much I convinced my fiancé to buy a boat in Amsterdam. We lived on the canals and could park our boat right outside our front door. While there weren’t many fish in the canals, we enjoyed being on the water and going for cruises through the picturesque city.