Faculty feature: Meet Valerie H. Sasaki

Please give us a brief overview of your academic and professional background. 

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and decided I wanted to go somewhere completely different for college, so I ended up at Tulane in New Orleans. I returned to the area to attend University of Oregon and University of Washington law schools for my JD and LLM (Taxation) degrees, respectively. 

After graduation, I joined the Portland office of KPMG in their state and local tax practice (SALT). SALT is a great place to practice because the rules are always changing, and you can add value to your client’s business by planning transactions in a way that achieves their business objectives, but also minimizes their tax burdens.

After some time, I was a manager in the SALT practice but decided I wanted a broader tax practice, and also wanted to explore working in a law firm, so I joined Miller Nash, where I was for about five years. I then joined Samuels Yoelin Kantor, where I now head the tax practice.

What do you enjoy most about teaching in The School of Business?

I really enjoy working with the students — they are sharp, motivated and enthusiastic. I look forward to working with many of them once they join the profession as working accountants. 

I also really appreciate the focus on technology and making the graduate experience work for people at a variety of points in their careers. I went straight through with my education and know a lot of folks who weren’t able to do so because this type of program didn’t exist when I was going to school. I think this focus on flexibility and inclusion will make the profession better and help all of us provide better client service.

What classes do you teach in our graduate programs?

Taxation of Estates, Gifts, and Trusts (MTAX 539), Federal estate, gift and generation-skipping tax laws; history and purposes; included assets; valuation; credits and deductions allowed; income taxation of trusts, estates and beneficiaries.

What are you passionate about in your work? 

I am passionate about navigating complexity as painlessly as possible. Our clients lead complicated lives and have complicated business relationships. It is incumbent on us to meet our clients where they are, figure out what their “best answer” is and help them achieve it within the parameters of the law. We must also be honest with our clients about the things that are too good to be true and help them plan to avoid getting in trouble with the IRS or other regulatory authorities.

I am also passionate about becoming a better manager. Over the last few years we have been focused on building our tax practice as the best boutique practice in the area, and part of this is a focus on meeting ourselves — and our colleagues — where they are and helping put in place what they need to achieve their best career and life.

When you are not teaching, what do you do in your free time?

I have a full practice with my firm, I am Vice-Chair of the Oregon Laws Commission project to rewrite the limited liability company statutes and I am Immediate Past-Chair of the Oregon State Bar’s Business Law Section Executive Committee.

For fun, I travel as much as humanly possible, enjoy playing with my cameras and have two spoiled little dogs. 

What does “redefining business” mean to you?

To me, “redefining business” means understanding that there are ways to accomplish a client’s business objectives that are efficient, effective and humane. This plays out in the client sphere, but also within our own businesses as advisors.

Redefining business means working with a functional team of advisors and internal personnel to get a business client to the best answer for that business client. We see a lot of times that the advisors (CPAs, Attorneys, Finance team) operate as islands and the ego of one or more of those advisors can lead to a breakdown in communication. 

This may be unique to the legal services industry, but I think redefining business also means understanding that good mentoring can help a younger professional develop the tools to integrate life and work in a way that serves both and makes everyone more money. Too often, you’ll find older professionals that treat new professionals as badly as they were treated (or close to as badly as they were treated) because they lack the tools to do anything else. So, while we are embracing the newer generation of professionals, it is also incumbent on us to be respectful of our more experienced professionals and give them the tools to effectively lead.

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