25-year-old alumnus Kerim Yilmaz went from tram line 7 to a one-way ticket to Dubai

Kerim Yilmaz

Dubai is where the ideology ‘The sky is not the limit. Your mind is’ is shared and experienced. This city has been the home of Erasmus School of Law’s former student Kerim Yilmaz for two years. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in Tax Law and a master’s degree in Tax Law with civil effect from Erasmus School of Law, he decided to leave his hometown Rotterdam for Dubai. But what made alumnus Kerim Yilmaz decide to seek his fortune in the Middle East at the age of 23? We asked him in an interview via a video call!

What made you decide to move to Dubai?

Kerim says the pandemic significantly influenced his move to the Middle East. “First of all, Covid-19 was a huge factor. My fellow students who had graduated during the pandemic or started their internships at ‘The Big Four’ companies told me there was a freeze on jobs due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, I have also experienced this vacancy stop myself. At the end of my studies, I had contact with an office in Amsterdam. We had started the application procedure, but due to the pandemic uncertainty, they had to inform me they would not be expanding their team in the short term. This all happened just before the summer of 2020.”

His next move was determined by studying Tax Law. “During my studies, our professors told us several times that gaining any experience abroad is very important. When finding a job in the Netherlands was out of the question, I thought: ‘Now is my chance to go abroad and work on my English’. I could have gone to the most obvious places for my English, such as London and New York, but that was not my preference. I decided to search on LinkedIn to see if I could make contact with someone who could help me with my search. Eventually, I got in touch with someone from Dubai, who I had just met at a conference in Turkey. We had a good conversation that ended with an invitation for a visit to Dubai. Not for an internship, but for an employment contract at Crowe; the company that gave me my first job. Without thinking about it too much, I looked up what the corona situation was like in Dubai and said to myself: ‘let’s give it a go!’“

Not much later, Kerim left for Dubai. “I was supposed to start in September 2020, but as soon as I signed the agreement, the company asked me if I could start earlier. Only, at the time, I was not fully graduated and still needed to defend my thesis for the master’s programme in Direct Taxation. That I did not graduate yet was not a problem for the company, so I moved to Dubai in July 2020.”

You eventually graduated in Tax Law. How did you know you wanted to study Tax Law?

“First, I started with a bachelor’s degree in Logistics and Economics”, Kerim begins. “As a child, I dreamed of working in logistics with ships, planes, trucks, etc. So, at first, my interests lay in the field of logistics.” Nevertheless, at seventeen, after finishing his first year at college, he decided to go to university. “After a year at college, I asked myself if it would not be a better idea to challenge myself and study at a university. So, I started studying Tax Law at the university.”

Kerim explains that he has always been very involved in the trade industry. “Besides logistics, I was very interested in trade at a young age,” he explains. “I come from an environment where working in trade plays a significant part in our lives. What are you when you say: ‘I am a businessman, I am a trader?’ Trade has always intrigued me and made me want to study Tax Law. Because if you ask the big boys in commerce what is crucial if you want to grow your business, they say that having your administration and tax in order is essential. If you make a mess of it, then sooner or later, you are going to get the worst of it.”

With this curiosity about the impact of VAT on businesses, large and small, Kerim, therefore, chose to follow the master’s Direct Taxation and Indirect Taxation at Erasmus School of Law. “In Dubai, they say that the Netherlands is a tax haven or a ‘high tax regulated country’. A lot of taxes are paid in the Netherlands, but at the same time, we also have a lot of knowledge about taxes. Fortunately, I don’t get those blue letters through my letterbox anymore in Dubai, but I still find it an interesting subject. Everyone has to deal with paying tax in their life, right?”

There are several universities in the Netherlands where you can study Tax Law. Why did you choose Erasmus School of Law?

According to Kerim, the choice was easy: “I never thought about studying at another university. I was born and raised in Rotterdam, and within fifteen minutes I could reach campus Woudestein with tram line 7 from my parental home. In addition, Erasmus School of Law is highly regarded, the faculty has professors who are praised nationally and internationally, and Rotterdam is the trading city of Europe. Where there is trade, there is tax. So choosing the right university for me was simple.”

Has there been a special moment in your time at university that has stayed with you?

Kerim nods. “Professor Sigrid Hemels, Professor of Tax Law at Erasmus School of Law, was my thesis supervisor for the Direct Taxes master’s degree,” he begins. “During the thesis process, I was told that a relative of mine had died. I told Professor Hemels I had to go to Turkey for the funeral. Professor Hemels was very understanding about the situation and said it would not be a problem if I left my thesis for a week. She then said that she also happened to be in Turkey for a conference in Istanbul around the same time. So I took the plunge and asked Professor Hemels if I could go with her to this conference. She checked it out but quickly told me I was welcome. Then there was only one thing left to do: book my tickets and a hotel, so I did that.”

Kerim says he met his contact from Dubai at the congress in Istanbul. “At the congress, not only did I get to see Professor Hemels speak, but I also had the opportunity to network with large international companies and fascinating people, such as delegates from the Turkish Ministry of Finance. One of these large global companies ended up being my first employer, Crowe Dubai. If I had not attended that conference, there would probably have been less chance of me starting work in Dubai soon after graduating. So the fact that I am here now is largely thanks to Professor Hemels.

Where exactly do you work, and what is your role?

After his first job at Crowe, Kerim went to work for Deloitte. “In the Netherlands, after studying tax law, you usually end up working for the tax authorities or a tax consultancy firm. If you want to work for a tax consultancy firm, most students prefer one of the four largest firms in the world, also known as the Big Four; Deloitte, KPMG, PwC and EY. I currently work for Deloitte as a tax consultant. We provide tax advice to multinationals and local Arab family businesses.”

What sacrifices did you have to make to be where you are now?

“Coincidentally, I was just talking about this with a colleague yesterday”, Kerim begins. “The work you do does not just pay off in financial terms. You could say that, for example, 60% of the earnings are paid out in money, and the other 40% are paid out in the knowledge and experience gained. You learn a lot of valuable knowledge in a Big Four firm that will be extremely useful in your further career as a tax consultant or another function.”

Also, seeing your family and friends less often is a sacrifice you must make to work in Dubai, Kerim says. “Dubai is not around the corner. When you start working in Dubai, you will inevitably see the people you love a little less.”

Finally, he cites the uncertainty of the job market in Dubai as a downside to consider. “When you get a permanent contract in the Netherlands, you have the certainty that you will only have to pack your bags in the most exceptional cases. In Dubai, it works very differently. Here, a permanent contract does not guarantee that you can stay. Currently, I have a permanent contract, but I could still be fired next month, get on a plane and have to start again in the Netherlands. So an open-ended contract does not have the same meaning here as it does in the Netherlands.” When asked if he fears a sudden departure, he says: “Of course, it is somewhere in the back of your mind, but I do not fear an early departure. I studied in the Netherlands, the country with the most tax knowledge in the world. Yes, you must keep performing and developing yourself, but your position here as a Dutch tax consultant is quite favourable.”

What skills do you need to get where you are today?

“It starts with perseverance”, says Kerim. “In addition, you need to be good at networking and chatting. Furthermore, it is important to be able to say no and, at the same time, have a flexible attitude. The projects you get to work on are delegated from above. As a junior, you get most of the work on your plate. The targets you have to reach are set accordingly. Do not be surprised by this, because as a junior, it is important that you take part in various current projects. If you do not dare to say no, you will easily be working 100 hours weekly.”

If you want to get to a similar place as Kerim, you have to dare to ask questions. “In Dubai, I met Shudja Faizi, who works at Deloitte and is also a graduate of Erasmus School of Law. In a conversation, I asked him, being the big football fan that I am, if he likes football. He answered my question by saying that he plays football every Tuesday evening with a group of colleagues. Again, I took the plunge and asked if I could join them. You can always ask, right? The result was that I found myself on the pitch playing football the following Tuesday with the Deloitte boys. After that Tuesday, there were more Tuesdays where we played football together. Eventually, a few months later, I received a phone call from one of Deloitte’s senior managers asking if I wanted to work for them. The rest is history.”

Looking at Dubai and the Netherlands, what differences can you notice in work culture?

“There are differences, but they are not so much in the work culture here,” Kerim begins. “I work for the international company Deloitte. Here at the office, we are with a mix of Dutch, British, Arabs, South Koreans and Canadians, and there is no typical work culture to notice.”

The culture he grew up in and the culture he is now supposed to adapt to still clash at times. “When you move to Dubai, you must take a medical test for your visa. I also had to undergo this. I was under the impression that this medical test was conducted in a clinic or hospital, so I went to the address where I had to undergo the test in my Feyenoord shorts. Once I arrived at the destination, I discovered that this medical test would be taken in a government building. I entered this government building wearing shorts, which was absolutely not allowed in Dubai. I was called to account for this. It is the kind of thing you have to get used to.”

What is your ambition?

“It might surprise you but working for a large company like Deloitte was not my ambition. During my studies, I set up my own tax consultancy, but to gain more experience, I wanted to work for a bigger player.” Kerim goes on to say that after the idea of working for a bigger firm, he actually has no further clear plans for the future in mind yet. “What my ambitions are for the future? I do not really have clear plans for myself yet. I would not be able to tell you, for example, if I will still be working here in 10 years. If I desire to make it as far as a partner at Deloitte, I will push myself to get there. One way or the other, I will get there. So, it is still unclear which direction I want to go. The only thing I am sure of is that I will blame myself later if I have ever let myself down. You must grow when you have big dreams and ambitions. This can be within the same company but also outside. Dubai gives you a lot of opportunities, so see to seize them.”

Do you have any final tips for our students?

“You do not need to have an answer to every question at this point in your life. You will always have doubts. I do not believe that people always know where they want to go. Not always knowing where you want to go is totally okay. It is just important that you learn to deal with that ignorance. You should not overthink things because those doubts can turn into big uncertainties. Of course, big dreams make for big decisions, but that should not scare you off. Just go for it and step out of your comfort zone!”

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