Unite’s Peter Ledermann: ‘We don’t like complex tax-saving models’

Fair Tax Leaders features senior professionals from across the Fair Tax Mark accredited business community.

Here, Peter Ledermann, Executive Board Member at Unite, shares his insights into responsible tax conduct.

In 2022 Unite became the first German multinational to gain the Fair Tax Mark. Based in Leipzig and active in 12 European countries, Unite connects buyers and suppliers through a B2B platform and digital solutions that enable sourcing, transacting and collaborating.

Peter, tell us a bit about your professional journey

After studying business administration, I started my career at a subsidiary of what is now the energy company E.ON. There, I gained experience in many different areas and took on responsibilities in HR and sales. In 2000, I joined the board of Unite. In 2003, my board colleague and I took over the company. This also involved taking on my current areas of responsibility in finance, legal, HR, and administration. I’ve also remained a major shareholder of the company.

How has the role of the tax or finance team changed in this time, especially in relation to stakeholder expectations around fair tax and corporate transparency?

Since our business model and scale were considerably smaller in the early days, the complexity of tax issues was correspondingly lower. Post-internationalisation, this is not the case. Fortunately, I’ve worked trustingly with Unite’s Head of Tax and Audit for 20 years. He joined us as a young employee and has been involved in all tax and finance matters. The team has grown since then, of course. We’ve always been very transparent with our stakeholders. Our tax advisers have always been happy because we don’t like complex tax-saving models. We’ve always behaved compliantly. This aligns with our values and our vision of a responsible world. What has changed are the formalities to be followed in reporting.

What drives Unite to pursue responsible tax conduct and gain the Fair Tax Mark?

The Fair Tax Mark is a way to show that we act responsibly, transparently, and honestly. We do this intrinsically anyway, but the Fair Tax Mark also recognises this. Our customers and stakeholders receive official confirmation that we are a reliable and responsible partner. With the Fair Tax Mark, Unite can distinguish itself from competitors who act less responsibly. Requirements from, for example, the sustainability report are easier to fulfill with the Fair Tax Mark, as we don’t have to document unnecessary amounts of evidence and arguments but can say, “Here is the seal of approval.”

What would your advice be to other professionals who are thinking of applying for the Fair Tax Mark?

I can only recommend the accreditation. It has helped us sharpen and document our processes better. During the accreditation process, the questions helped us understand what is important for a positive view of our tax behaviour. The process was very transparent and open. Being open and transparent in communication from the company side also matters. The Fair Tax Mark helps us communicate with our stakeholders significantly, including within the company. It becomes clear to all employees and applicants that we take our values of being “fair,” “sustainable,” and “responsible” seriously and live by them.

What are your thoughts on the future of fair tax and corporate transparency?

Paying taxes where business is conducted is a significant entrepreneurial responsibility. The company benefits from the country’s economy and infrastructure, so paying the appropriate taxes there is only right and proper. Taxes should, of course, always be appropriate. But that is part of the economic policy of respective countries. If I am unsatisfied with that and cannot work economically, I must make an entrepreneurial decision about whether I want to stay in that country. Not paying taxes is not an option. Complex tax-saving models only lead to opacity and create significant restrictions in business development because I must constantly maintain the fragile construct. Tax laws are complex partly because legislators must address and eliminate legal gaps or opportunities for tax evasion. Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult for companies like ours, which do not seek loopholes but pay due taxes properly.

What one sentence your team would use to describe you?

I am an open and honest person who trusts my team and is happy when the team and its members continue to grow and develop.

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