For Mitchell Trager, senior tax counsel at Georgia-Pacific LLC, involvement in the tax industry really was a way of life. His father, who passed away when Trager was a teenager, was a tax attorney for a major New York law firm. “We used to talk about what he did, what work was like, and a variety of interesting situations and problems that he used to work on—and I guess all of those discussions we had about his job helped to hook me on getting involved in the tax scene,” Trager says.
Indeed, while Trager finds many tax areas interesting, he is most intrigued by projects that involve researching the tax code, supporting regulations, and reviewing the plethora of court cases dotting the corporate tax landscape. “These situations allow me to stay current with tax regulation and policy—and when you couple that with helping to understand your business’ operations, you realize what an incredibly rewarding field corporate tax can be.”
What is the most problematic issue Trager has encountered in his enduring career in corporate tax? Here’s how he explains it: “When I was a young tax lawyer working for Seagram’s, trying to understand parts of a large DuPont issue for IRS audit purposes, it was extremely frustrating,” he says. “I remember the problem as having to deal effectively with what was a very significant issue, and realizing that often tax issues can be extremely complicated.”
Trager has thoroughly enjoyed his tenure at Georgia-Pacific. “I love working for Georgia-Pacific and being part of the Koch family of companies,” he says. “The best part of Georgia-Pacific is our tax leadership team—the knowledge of the team, the support, and the ability of the individual members of the team to grow as tax professionals can be truly inspirational. The ability to understand law and to apply legal principles and concepts to the multitude of tax issues that my company continually faces is what motivates our team and me every day. In addition, we are assisting the company overall in creating additional value for our shareholders—and that can be a very rewarding goal as a tax professional. Finally, I truly love and appreciate being able to visit our more than 250 operations in the United States and to be able to meet and interact with so many people in the field. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience.”
The Seagram’s Experience
Trager’s work at Seagram’s, prior to his joining Georgia-Pacific, proved to be a solid foundation for his current work. “As this was my first job with a public company,” he notes, “understanding the workings of a corporate tax department helped me for many years forward. I appreciated the efforts of some of the department veterans who took me under their wings and even let me tag along with them to lunch occasionally.”
While Trager’s career is full of accomplishments, if he had to single out one, it would be the almost three decades he has worked at Georgia-Pacific. “That would be at the top of my list,” he says. “I just love this company and the many opportunities afforded me as a tax professional. And I truly appreciate all the members of the talented team that I work with every day.”
The TEI Connection
Trager is a huge supporter of TEI. “The best part of TEI,” he notes, “is the many friends that I have met over the years, and being part of such a great organization. I give thanks to the many people . . . who have taken the time to invest in me and allow me to grow as an in-house tax professional and more importantly as a person.” (Trager also thanks his mom, Rhoda, for her encouragement and support.)
Trager understands how important it is for TEI to develop the talent of younger in-house tax professionals. “The Tax Executives Institute needs to take an interest in the younger tax professionals so that the profession prospers in the future,” he says. “Emerging tax professionals, or ETPs as we call them at TEI, need to feel included and are more than willing, if asked, to participate in a variety of activities. It is important to engage the ETPs so that we have a diversity of people, experiences, and thoughts in our vital organization. With all our members in TEI, if you feel part of the organization, from the chapter level to the regional level to Institute level, you will want to volunteer and be part of and buy into the TEI experience, which will benefit you and your company as you grow as an in-house tax professional.”
When not immersed in complicated tax matters, Trager loves to spend time with his wife of almost thirty-seven years, Larissa. He also has many hobbies and interests beyond family, including cruising (recently Alaska); being a foodie (posting pictures of great meals); anything Springsteen (who doesn’t love the Boss?); hunting coins (with his metal detector); fishing (always trying to hook the big one); and, of course, being a lifelong fan of the New York Mets and the New York Giants (as of this writing, it has already been a long season for the Giants).
For those TEI members who recently have become acquainted with Trager, he wants you to know that, at one time, he really did have hair on his head. Finally, he wants you to know he’s a New Yorker through and through and that at least once a year he returns to New York City to visit and eat. His favorite place: Katz’s Deli on East Houston Street. (No, it’s not pronounced like the city in Texas.)