Alice Katwan: Playing a Leading Role to Deliver New Solutions in Tax Compliance

Top 10 Empowering Women Leaders to Follow in 2024

Alice Katwan took a long path to step into her dream role as the President of Revenue at Sovos. For a large part of a more than 25-year career, she made strategic choices that would allow her to balance career advancement with the role most important to her: mother to three boys. Now that they have grown up, left home, and started their own flourishing careers, she has catapulted her already successful professional journey with a role that has the potential to make a global business impact. In her latest move, she is transforming the go-to-market functions at Sovos, a global provider of tax, compliance, and trust solutions and services.

For Alice, success has never been measured by the usual yardsticks of titles and compensation, but rather by her ability to positively impact and influence others. “Once you become a leader, it’s no longer just about you. It’s about the positive impact you have on the people around you, how engaged your teams are, and how well you can develop your teams,” she says.

This definition has evolved over the years. Initially, success was found in terms of personal growth — her contribution as an individual. After assuming her first leadership position, her team became her priority. “If they are successful, you will ultimately be successful,” she says. “Your job as a leader is to invest in your team and make sure that you are helping them grow; to nurture them so that they can be successful.”

This translates into how you work as well. As someone who believes in leading by example, Alice is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get in the trenches with her team. So, when she joined Sovos in August of 2023, she immediately got in front of customers and her team, having conversations, and getting involved in as much as she could to immerse herself in the organization.

Starting Up: Launching a Career in Silicon Valley

Alice entered the technology industry in the 1990s, during a booming period in Silicon Valley. Living in the Bay Area, she was always attracted to the technological advancements and innovations taking place. “There was a buzz. Everyone you met talked about being in tech and how exciting it was to be working in Silicon Valley,” she says. “Because I grew up here, it was a natural step to end up in tech. The proximity to an area filled with innovative companies doing exciting things definitely influenced my career choices.”

The start was not without its challenges. For many years, she was one of few women in tech in Silicon Valley. Many times, she was the only woman at the table. These challenges continued even as she took on leadership roles. Rather than deterring her, she used each opportunity to take the lead in conversations and establish greater rapport, especially when she was in a room with other leaders or in meetings where there was a lack of diversity. “I think that definitely has helped me to become more resilient,” she says.

Alice was raised in a family of modest means, and her father’s ability to support three generations set an example for her, both in work ethic and in purpose. As a politician, public speaker, and many other roles, she always saw him making a difference. “He was passionate about making an impact on others, and inspired me to take the path I’m on,” Alice says. “What he taught me the most is to follow your passion and do what you love.”

She notes the advancements the industry has made, with today’s environment much more receptive to diversity and equality. It is a different landscape than what it was when she started.

Alice does feel fortunate to have worked with many leaders early in her career whose support helped fuel her success. On those who were not as supportive, she notes “it did impact my ability to lead my team and bring the team along as well as I would have liked” But every experience was valuable, teaching her what she wanted from future opportunities and the types of leaders she sought to work for. “There are lessons I have taken away from each of my professional experiences, and having those has been critical to my success,” she says.

Over the years, while Alice has always worked within the larger technology sector, she has touched a wide variety of industries as she took on bigger leadership positions. The diversity is appealing because it allows her to learn about so many different businesses and industries, and how they all tie together. “I am energized by being part of setting the strategy and vision holistically for a company – and that is a large part of what got me to where I am today,” she adds.

Her Most Important Role: Mom

Throughout her professional journey, Alice was intentional about every career move she made, to ensure she would also be there for her family as she raised three sons. Like many professional women, being able to balance the things in her life that are most important is what she feels is her greatest accomplishment. “Purpose is so important to me, and I achieve that from my work, and from giving back to the community. But those two areas never eclipsed my responsibilities that I had as a mom,” she points out.

While raising her children, she prioritized balance, was patient, and sometimes even turned down promotions. “People who knew about my choices sometimes asked if I worried, they would hinder my progression, or if I regretted any of those decisions, and my answer has always been ‘No’,” Alice says. “The timing was not right, and I didn’t have the right balance. But I believe opportunities are there when you’re ready.”

At one point in her career, Alice wanted to have it all – all at the same time – because she did not want to let anybody down. But in trying to do too much, Alice one day found herself in the hospital from fatigue and stress.

She recalls that a doctor looked into her eyes and said, “Something has got to give here, or you are not going to enjoy the fruits of your labor, your husband, and kids…. everything you work so hard for.” That was a moment of realization for Alice. She then took a step back and slowed down her career trajectory. She did that until the moment and time were right for her to continue.

“My advice to everyone is, don’t take the bigger job or opportunity until you are absolutely ready for it,” she adds. “Now that I’m an empty nester and my sons are embarking on their own successful careers, my role today came at the perfect time, and is the fulfillment of a dream to be here.”

Her greatest achievement will always be her sons. “I’m a mother and mentor to all three of these amazing men,” she says. “Two of them are already underway in their careers, and my youngest is in college while also serving as Co-Founder of a startup.” Each of her sons followed in her footsteps and joined the tech industry. Her son Christopher is the Co-Founder of Bunky, son Anthony is a Senior Analyst at Accenture and Sami works in New Business Sales at Plaid.

Ascending the Ladder: Her Role at Sovos

Alice considers her new role at Sovos her “dream job” for a variety of reasons. The role allows her to apply her passion for building and leading teams. It also places her in an industry that is complex and ever evolving, which energizes her. “We are transforming the tax compliance industry, and we’re also transforming the organization internally,” she stated. “That is what I love to do — to be able to make an impact on others and on the organization as a whole.”

She was also impressed with Sovos’ leadership team, particularly the company’s CEO, Kevin Akeroyd, as well as her peers on the executive leadership team. “The opportunity to be surrounded by these peers also inspired me to join the organization.”  Beyond that, she believes that the solutions Sovos provides should be top of the mind for every company in every industry today.

Sovos is a provider of a comprehensive suite of cloud-based solutions and services that help companies of every size, market, and location navigate the evolving and complex world of tax and regulatory compliance. What differentiates Sovos from its competitors is the combination of its best-in-class technology and its unrivaled experience and capabilities from a regulatory perspective.

“Tax compliance is critical for companies of all sizes, in every part of the globe,” Alice says. “It can be a challenge for companies to keep up with the always changing and diverse regulations, the problem we are solving is an important one.”

The company’s customers rely on it to ensure compliance with all potential tax regulatory requirements, as having the expertise to identify and interpret changes quickly and the technological capabilities to execute are critical to their success. “Our customers know that no matter where they conduct business, we have the solutions and services to guide them to a successful outcome,” Alice says.

She also underscores that these compliance complexities are not going away. In fact, it is only getting more complicated as governments shift to an always-on technology model to capture the revenue they are legally owed. So, Sovos intends to continue to invest in its compliance cloud platform, making sure that it is the trusted partner that businesses can always turn to for a single-source solution.

“This approach creates greater efficiency, lowers costs, and allows customers to standardize on one trusted solution anywhere they do business,” she adds. “As regulatory compliance demands continue to evolve globally, having one source of data for your compliance posture is essential.”

Organizationally, Alice wants to make a positive impact on the team and all the employees at Sovos. She notes that the company is on a mission to democratize all things tax-compliance, and she wants to be a part of the team that makes that happen. “We are on a transformational journey, and I am thrilled to be a part of that,” she says. “My goal is to bring my experience to the table in way that supports my teams toward their own high success.”

An Empathetic Leader’s Work Routine

Alice’s leadership philosophy is grounded in a combination of empathy and high expectations, because “what leaders do, and what we ask others to do, can be hard.” She places an emphasis on rewarding her team members for their performance and regularly celebrating their successes.

“Celebrating your teams’ successes is so important because there will also always be setbacks. And, when you lead with empathy, you can create that balance of being able to drive high performance and appreciate where your team members are coming from,” she adds.

Alice lives on the West Coast, but she works East Coast hours due to her global role. Her day starts at 5 a.m. with a cup of coffee. She reviews news and information that she needs to prep for meetings and calls in the upcoming day, followed by a workout – which she prioritizes because it is essential for her energy. Most days are filled with virtual meetings with her peers and teams, as Sovos; workforce is dispersed across the globe. On any given day, she could also be meeting in person or online with customers and partners, the board of directors, or investors. She travels for work as well – up to 50 percent of the time “My day can vary, which is what I love about what I do. It is not the same every single day,” she says.

At the end of every day, Alice likes to decompress, reflect on, and process what has happened during the day, and note any follow-ups that need to happen. She prefers to end her day with an activity such as yoga or playing golf to calm her mind. She also enjoys cooking. “Cooking relaxes me and just makes me feel good,” she says.

In addition to her work-related responsibilities, Alice is actively engaged in giving back – both within her industry and in her community. Currently, she serves as an Advisory Board Member of Emtrain and Databook; and as a Board Director for Cielo Talent, the world’s leading provider of recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) solutions; and Sift, a leading digital trust and safety platform.

Achieving Your Dreams

Before she graduated from college, Alice worked her way through college, foregoing the more traditional office internships held by many of her peers. She worked hard for everything she wanted to accomplish. Now, she appreciates what she has, how far she has come, and the hard work that has gone into all that.

When she looks back at her career journey, Alice believes that she has achieved everything that she dreamed of. “I didn’t think I would get here, and it was hard getting here,” she says. “But I have achieved all that I dreamed of.”

“I didn’t get here on my own. I owe it to those who believed in me, trusted me, took me in, and partnered with me to get here,” she adds. “There were always people who encouraged me to keep going, and I’m thankful to all of them.”

Alice tells aspiring leaders to be confident, and to gain that confidence by always being curious and learning – about their industry, their business, their career space. “Believe in yourself, follow your passion and do what you love – that was advice my dad gave me as well,” she adds.