Taking the Risk Out of Global Health Expansion

At McKesson, Ariel Lewkowicz’s risk-eliminating strategy ensures that the company's lines of communication are kept open

Ariel Lewkowicz’s job is, in part, to avoid surprises. During a time when tax reform and widening global marketplaces for healthcare frequently cause flux and uncertainty, his primary strategy as the VP of tax operations for McKesson revolves around building communication. “Building relationships to understand what’s going on within the company allows us to identify not only potential issues but opportunities,” Lewkowicz says. “It’s all about collaboration and communication.”

In recent years, McKesson has been tapping into global markets. The 2014 acquisition of Celesio, a German healthcare and pharmaceutical company, allowed McKesson to expand its operations across Europe. “While this acquisition created many new strategic opportunities, it also opened up the potential of risk related to tax controversy, with global business models receiving increased scrutiny for cross-border transfer of employees, assets, and profits,” says Lewkowicz, who has specialized in international tax throughout his career.

“We highlight the issues at stake, we plan for the future, and we highlight how we manage risk, so that when that happens there are no surprises.”

Governments across the world are requiring more transparency and more information, especially when it’s cross-border. To that end, with the expansion of global markets, countries increasingly structure different sets of rules to ensure that they’re receiving a fair share of taxes. So, it’s vital to have a tax team embedded in potential transactions to evaluate deals for tax implications before they are structured.

To avoid tax controversy, Lewkowicz also regularly travels to meet business partners and tax advisors abroad, ranging from Germany to Israel to Canada. It’s become his mission to have a high level of collaboration to influence those decisions in a positive way. “We regularly communicate to our business partners that it’s never too early to involve tax, beginning with the planning phase,” he says. “There is a potential tax impact to every end-to-end process and nearly every decision in the finance function.” Building tax into those underlying practices, he adds, gives management more visibility and better information.

Data Problem Solving

McKesson has recently partnered with Change Healthcare Holdings—a provider of healthcare software, analytics, network solutions, and technology-
enabled services for the healthcare market—to create Change Healthcare. This new healthcare information company plans to use its complementary capabilities to deliver a range of financial, operational, and clinical benefits to payers, providers, and consumers by leveraging data and analytics to drive new solutions. Announced in March 2017, the company will comprise fifteen thousand team members.

Communication about potential risks also helps to reassure McKesson’s various stakeholders. Having detailed information on how existing tax risks are addressed and managed, Lewkowicz says, helps to assuage concerns on how future risks might be handled. With that in mind, he makes sure his team’s work is regularly and explicitly presented. In addition to regularly presenting to the board’s audit committee, his team looks for opportunities outside of formal board meetings to keep tax matters in front of executives. “We highlight the issues at stake, we plan for the future, and we highlight how we manage risk,” Lewkowicz says. “So when that happens, there are no surprises.”

Among its various current initiatives, McKesson recently partnered with Change Healthcare Holdings to create a new healthcare information technology company. It’s also launching a new sourcing partnership with Wal-Mart called ClarusONE, focused on driving efficiencies and adding scale and value for both companies. In these ventures, Lewkowicz explains, it has been crucial to have early, close collaboration with business partners to successfully implement tax-efficient structures.

Lewkowicz takes pride in knowing that his team’s efforts enable the company to move forward in progressive ways, in part because of his respect for McKesson’s principles. In fact, Lewkowicz works to ensure that his team is highly tapped into tax legislative matters, currently those related to US tax reform. “Our global tax department proactively lobbies to protect McKesson’s tax attributes, advocating for legislative proposals that might have a positive impact to the company and the industry,” Lewkowicz says.

Making a positive impact on the industry is something that Lewkowicz has been passionate about for a long time. Lewkowicz grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and his father was a doctor who frequently traveled to smaller communities to provide much-needed care. As his career developed, Lewkowicz found he was motivated to use his expertise to help others in a similarly meaningful way. McKesson happens to be the best place for his passion and skills.

Since McKesson is firmly committed to better health, Lewkowicz has also been impressed with the company’s leadership and its shared principles. To pass on that passion for the company’s priniciples, he is actively involved in company initiatives such as the Leaders Teaching Leaders program and the Professional Association of Latinos at McKesson employee resource group.

“Our work at McKesson is driven by our shared principles,” he says. “Living out these values empowers us to make a positive difference in the world.”

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