Director of Tax, Restaurant Brands International
Called to the bar in 2011
Clara Pham wants to clear up some misconceptions. First, you don’t have to be good at math to do tax law. Second, it doesn’t deserve its reputation. “You picture grey-haired men with glasses, hunched over, carrying a battered briefcase,” she says. “But it’s the opposite.”
The 31-year-old is the director of tax at Restaurant Brands International, the billion-dollar company that was born when Tim Hortons merged with Burger King. Sitting in a downtown Tims — where else? — she explains why she’s so obsessed with managing the billion-dollar company’s corporate income-tax portfolio.
Her career started in Montreal, where she’s from, as a summer student at Stikeman Elliott LLP. “It was very sexy. You’ve seen the show Suits — it’s reminiscent of that.” During that summer, Pham worked on a tax file and loved the work. So she decided to specialize. After law school at McGill, she moved to Toronto with her now husband, Jacques Doan, and completed the University of Waterloo’s Master of Taxation program. Pham then got a job at KPMG. And, in 2014, she worked on the Burger King-Tim Hortons merger.
The next year, Restaurant Brands International hired her as its tax director, a role that usually goes to someone with an additional decade of experience. “Clara clearly has a tremendous amount of responsibility relative to her years in practice,” says Mark Schichtel, the senior VP of global tax at RBI.
Her enthusiasm for tax is almost palpable. “Tax is like a puzzle,” says Pham. “Someone might have a clear view of what something means, and somebody else might think the complete opposite. There’s never a clear answer, and that’s why I love it.”