Paul H. Yong is vice president of corporate tax and chief tax counsel for Sempra Energy.
He is co-author of Corporate Income Tax Accounting, a desktop treatise published by Thomson Reuters, and is an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law.
Learn more about Paul Yong and his Chinese-American heritage in this Q&A:
You are vice president of corporate tax and chief tax counsel for Sempra Energy. Tell us more about your role. What are your department’s responsibilities?
My overarching responsibility is to help Sempra Energy and its operating companies optimize the earnings that they work so hard to generate, while also managing our compliance with all tax laws.
The easiest way to describe the most critical part of our job is to use a “circle of life” example:
- Beginning: When the company is evaluating an acquisition of a business, selling an existing business, or restructuring a business, we analyze and help structure these processes in an effort to enhance their benefits to our businesses.
- Middle: We file hundreds of tax returns and estimated tax payments.
- End: We work with the appropriate tax authorities in each taxing jurisdiction where we do business when they conduct routine audits of the company’s tax positions. We respond to requests for information, submit supporting legal research and negotiate settlements.
Sempra’s values are to do the right thing, champion people, and shape the future. Which one of these values resonates with you most and why?
Shape the Future. Why? First, I believe it encompasses the other two values. If we don’t do the right thing or champion people, we can’t shape the future. Second, the past year has led many to reassess their priorities. Many want a life with purpose — a purpose that aligns with their values. These could be values such as more quality family time, a cleaner environment, a just society or a better future for our children.
Finally, some of the greatest breakthroughs start as dreams. As the son of an immigrant mother with a third-grade education, she encouraged me to dream. As the son of a man who was blind in one eye and worked as a line cook, he too encouraged me to dream. As a young child running barefoot and living in a housing project, I sometimes wondered if those dreams would ever come true. They did! Now it’s my turn to help others achieve their dreams and shape their future and, together, shape Sempra’s future.
Photo: Paul and his family
Sempra Energy is committed to fostering an inclusive environment and advancing diverse backgrounds and perspectives. What are some of the ways Sempra has advanced diversity and inclusion throughout your time here?
There is a huge difference between “mathematical diversity” and “melting pot diversity.” A bit of background — I grew up in Hawaii and it truly is a “melting pot” of people and cultures. I was surprised when I first moved to Los Angeles that while it was considered one of the most diverse major cities in the world, ethnic groups clustered in certain areas. As leaders, we need to encourage and create opportunities to move from mathematical diversity to melting pot diversity.
For instance, shortly after I arrived at Sempra, we commissioned the equivalent of the company’s bi-annual employee engagement survey. Over the years, we implemented several operational changes and initiatives to enhance engagement and teamwork. Within the tax department, we have a “recognition team” that develops team building events, such as our annual Tax Olympics, which helped to keep our team engaged throughout the past year while we continue working remotely.
I was delighted when the company sponsored more employee events, such as Lunch Meets, a speaker series, and diversity town halls. In Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he gave us an image of true diversity: “I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”
Hiring a black candidate, or a white candidate, or a Hispanic candidate or an Asian candidate based solely on merit is a big first step in our journey. Along that journey we will find these four employees enjoying lunch together at Sempra HQ when it’s safe to do so.
Personally, I was pleased to be one of the executive sponsors for our I Belong campaign last year. I shared my heart condition and hearing difficulties as a way to hopefully normalize conversations around disability. There is so much stigma around these issues, and it’s really important we help individuals with disability feel a sense of belonging at Sempra.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. What does your heritage mean to you?
I’m proud to be Chinese American. Like most Americans, whether they arrived by ship to Ellis Island, trekked thousands of miles to the U.S. border, or simply walked off an airplane, we all have a story to tell. My story? I believe it was my great-great-grandfather who first arrived in California to work on the railroad. He fulfilled his labor contract when the tracks reached San Francisco. With part of his savings, he bought a cuckoo clock. He returned to China and forbade his children and descendants from going to America — it was too uncivilized!
A hundred years later, his great-granddaughter married a line cook from Hawaii. Months after she arrived in Honolulu, I was born. A few months after I arrived, Hawaii became the 50th state. His great-great-grandson was an American living in America! During my annual pilgrimage to Hawaii, the family will get together and “talk story” — that’s how we preserve and honor our heritage.
Photo: Paul as a child