Meeting the 2021 eprivateclient 50 Most Influential: John Barnett of Burges Salmon

News Team, 18/06/2021

The eprivateclient 50 Most Influential is the definitive rankings of the key players in the UK and offshore private client practitioner sector.

To showcase the achievements of those listed this year and to get to know them a bit better, eprivateclient has begun publishing a series of Q&As with our 2021 50 Most Influentials.

This week we spoke to Burges Salmon's John Barnett. John has worked at Burges Salmon for nearly 25 years and is head of the firm's private client services team. He provides tax advice to a wide-range of high-net worth individuals and many leading banks and other financial institutions. John chairs the CIOT’S main Technical Committee, is a member of the CIOT’s governing council and was a member of the General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR) panel that approved HMRC’s initial GAAR guidance.

What have been your proudest personal/team achievements this year?  

Maintaining and in many ways enhancing team morale. One important facet of this has been daily team video-calls including a “show and tell” session in which one person a day told us something about their external hobbies and interests. It has been fascinating to learn everything from Chinese cookery to the art of Stanley Spencer via How to run a community cinema and cheerleading.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Shyness is something – at least in my case - you do rather than something you are. If you want to stop being shy, then just stop.

What do you find most rewarding about your role?

In relation to my role as chair of CIOT’s Technical Committee, seeing a tax change for which we’ve campaigned and worked hard actually implemented.  The Statutory Residence Test (while not perfect) is probably the best example I can think of.

What challenges do you see your firm/clients facing in 2021?

Clients will undoubtedly face increasing taxation of their wealth and will have to navigate this carefully. Firms will continue to face the same pressures of regulation and recruitment that have challenged us for the last few years, but particularly in 2021, getting the balance between home and office working right will present new challenges to which no-one yet knows what the right answer will prove to be.

What does being named a 50 Most Influential mean to you?

Having been in and out of the list over the last few years, it’s definitely not something I take for granted. And indeed that fact is what makes the award particularly meaningful. It represents a genuinely independent acknowledgement from one’s peers – not an award (unlike some others) you can sponsor your way into. 

What is the favourite part of your job?

Helping put things right for clients with deliberate under-declarations of tax. I remember one particular case where, at the end of it, both HMRC and the client sent me thank you letters:  HMRC for acting professionally but courteously throughout; the client for “treating me like a human being rather than a criminal”.

What made you choose to focus on private client work?

I’m not sure it was ever a conscious decision! I have always enjoyed tax, and private clients seem to have more interesting tax issues than companies.  So over the years I guess I have drifted from corporate tax towards private client work.

What book/luxury item would you want with you on a desert island?

Book: If I knew there was a realistic prospect of rescue within a couple of years then Kessler: Taxation of Foreign Domiciliaries. It would give me a chance really to get stuck into it! If there was no prospect of rescue then probably Christopher Tolkien’s Complete Middle Earth.

Luxury item: Assuming the Roy Plumley rules apply (inanimate, can’t be used to escape or communicate – thus ruling out 100 foot fully staffed super yacht) then probably a guitar. I can’t play, but it would be great to teach myself.

If you were not in (and it is not) your current role, what would be your dream job?   

House-manager for UK home of one of my clients. The client only comes to the home about 2 weeks a year. For the other 50 the house-manager enjoys the run of the house, all cooking and cleaning done, use of private lake, shooting in private woodlands and membership of local golf-course (the pay isn’t particularly good, but who cares).

What’s your favourite hobbies/passions/interests outside of work?

I enjoy watching and participating (badly) in most sports. Over Lockdown I’ve particularly enjoyed getting to grips with audio and video-editing and putting together pieces (sometimes up to 40+ musicians) for our “virtual choir”.

What one piece of advice has benefited you the most in your career?

Learn to touch-type. I qualified as a secretary in 1992 before I became a lawyer and, despite being told at the time that voice-recognition would make touch-typing redundant, it has proved invaluable in the 28 years’ since.