Let’s let Gregory Viggiano, the company’s senior director of tax planning, explain it in his own words: “When I was five, I was a fan of the Green Hornet TV show. I wanted to buy the Corgi Cars version of [Green Hornet alter ego] Britt Reid’s ‘Black Beauty.’ It was four dollars, and I saved up my pennies to buy it. My mother told me I’d need twenty cents more for sales tax, but I couldn’t wait to save that much more. Mom was great to pay the sales tax; I loved the car (it shot missiles and more), and that set me on the path to thinking about taxes—the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ behind them.”
And that led to the University of Richmond and the Georgetown University Law Center, and stints at law and accounting firms prior to coming to Maersk in New Jersey. “I got a great grounding in tax law and principles and I learned that a high level of care is required in analyzing any tax problem, because the law is complex, and that the answer can depend on a client’s specific factual situation,” he notes. “And, ultimately, we are here to help our clients meet their business goals. Hence today I try to know my clients’ businesses well, work hard to establish the facts and law affecting the advice they need, [and] crafting that advice with care and good judgment, in a comprehensible manner, all so they can achieve their objectives.”
Maersk is a Fortune Global 500 firm, with operations in almost every country in the world. Maersk Line, its global container division, is the world’s largest container shipping company, responsible for transporting food, clothing, electronics, and other products. “With its logistics and terminal affiliates, it is an incredibly complicated business—establishing routes, setting rates, balancing the staging of equipment—and we have many incredibly smart people working hard so the company succeeds,” Viggiano explains. “We face a number of challenges, both short- and long-term, and the tax department plays its part in addressing them. There is always something new to work on, and our diverse, high-caliber colleagues inspire me to do my best as well.”
“I have been a generalist my whole career, and my job covers every aspect of tax—federal, state, income, sales and use, you name it.”
Today, just as was true when he was five, Viggiano finds virtually any new area of tax fascinating. “I have been a generalist my whole career, and my job covers every aspect of tax—federal, state, income, sales and use, you name it. In the last several years, state tax has become a bigger part of my practice, and the complexity has been a revelation. It’s becoming more important lately as states use the passage of AJCA (the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004) as an opportunity to increase taxes on corporations,” he notes.
From Viggiano’s vantage point, the tax function has grown in both size and importance since he began working at the firm. “When I started in 2000, there was only a three-person tax function [at company headquarters] in Copenhagen and a nine-person tax group in the U.S. In most places, tax was handled as part of the finance function. Management came to realize the value that a professional tax department would provide the group, particularly in avoiding risk. Today we have more than 130 tax professionals in eight Tax Centers of Excellence throughout the world, and I’m proud to say the U.S. group helped serve as a model for our current department,” Viggiano says.
Tax Reform Legislation
What is Viggiano’s opinion of the new tax reform measure? “The corporate rate reduction is very welcome and was required to bring the U.S. into line with other OECD countries that have been lowering their own rates for years now. However, the haste with which the law was passed has left numerous gaps that need to be filled in with regulations, and Treasury and the IRS have their work cut out for them,” Viggiano asserts. “The time required for them to provide the necessary guidance leaves taxpayers on tenterhooks in the meantime. We in corporate tax departments are feeling our way forward in a very uncertain environment, trying to anticipate how the regulations will turn out while trying to preserve our options in case the final regulations defy our best efforts at prognostication.”
Viggiano is particularly proud of rebuilding the firm’s tax department in the United States. “In 2008,” he explains, “two senior people had departed, and I was tasked with restaffing the department. Needless to say, it was a difficult time, and we had to move quickly. Management wanted a plan in place first, which we got. I hired a director, general manager, and three staff people from 2009 to 2010 and got them up to speed on our business and the unique rules in our industry. There was also a significant IRS audit going on at the time (which ultimately ended very favorably for us). The same group is still around today and is recognized as being a great team within our global tax group.”
When not absorbed in tax issues, Viggiano serves as an alumni interviewer for his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Richmond (UR). “It helps me keep abreast of the developments at UR, which has grown to become a nationally recognized liberal arts college, and meet young people who are about to take that first big step into adulthood,” he says.
Other activities occupy his time as well. “I also plan a big trip for our family every two to three years. I love learning all the details of the place we’ll visit and come up with a detailed itinerary of restaurants, hotels, and sights. While my itineraries can be exhausting, usually everything goes according to plan; when it doesn’t, the bumps are not too severe. I quickly had to teach myself to drive on the left side for our trip to South Africa—a very interesting challenge in Durban and Cape Town!”
TEI plays an important role in Viggiano’s life. “Your spouse and your nontax friends don’t understand tax,” he says. “They have no idea what you do and frankly are scared to death (or think they will be bored to death) to talk about it. TEI allows tax people to get together and share their work experiences, discuss common problems, and get insights from peers on being a tax professional. That can include how folks are dealing with the latest regulation that was issued, how the auditors in various jurisdictions operate, [and] how their departments operate, among other things. It’s also a great opportunity to get leadership experience and help others around you grow professionally.”
One last thing you should know about Viggiano—he’s a bit of a daredevil. “On our trip to Victoria Falls the summer before last, I went into the Devil’s Pool, which is right at the edge of the falls. You get to pose for photos balanced on the edge of the pool, with a couple of feet of rock between you and going 330 feet straight down. It’s thrilling!”
To each his own, as they say.