Up to the task- Lawyer spearheads state Turnaround Task Force


By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

The Great Lakes State is roaring back--and attorney Greg Nowak is helping lead the charge.

A principal in the Detroit office of Miller Canfield, Nowak --a former chair of the board of the Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants--heads the "Michigan Turnaround Task Force," a new partnership of the MACPA and state government.

"We're working with the governor, lieutenant governor, budget director, and several departments to help them address issues ranging from making the Department of Treasury more 'customer centric' to helping MEDC attract and assist businesses in the state to helping measure the effectiveness of spending for roads and transportation to helping the state improve the effectiveness of its computer systems," he explains.

Nowak first got involved in legislative issues as chair of the Detroit Regional Chamber tax committee, where he got to know then Speaker of the House Andy Dillon and helped the House Taxation Committee with a blueprint for the Michigan Business Tax that replaced the Single Business Tax.

"Unfortunately the committee process between the House and Senate produced a bit of a Frankenstein monster of a tax that pasted bits from two plans together in a way that did not create a cohesive final product," he says.

Many of the good policy elements of the MBT were retained in the new corporate income tax.

"The new tax is a definite improvement for the business community mainly because it was a huge tax reduction, and a lot of smaller businesses are no longer taxable at all. It also is much simpler since it eliminated the modified gross receipts tax the Senate had insisted be incorporated into the MBT back in 2007. That was the Achilles heel of the MBT."

In 2010-11, Nowak served as an adviser to Gov. Snyder's administration in developing the corporate income tax.

After learning a great amount about the legislative process, Nowak now enjoys lobbying and legislative consulting.

"It can be very interesting," he says. "Especially with term limits and a very partisan environment, the process can be a bit ugly up close, but is also an intriguing thing to observe."

Nowak is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA); State Bar of Michigan--ax Section, where he is former chair of the State and Local Tax Committee; and American Bar Association Taxation Section.

In 2008, MACPA honored him with the Thomas Hoatlin Award for contributing to the relationship between the CPA profession and the Michigan Department of Treasury; and a year later, with a special recognition award for his contribution in state and local taxation. He received the Detroit Regional Chamber Volunteer of the Year Award in 2007 for his work on the Michigan Business Tax.

His career path began with a bachelor's degree in accounting from Michigan State University, followed by a juris doctor from Wayne State University School of Law.

"Accounting is the language of business, and is in my opinion the most versatile and valuable business degree you can receive," he says. "Tax lies right at the intersection between the two professions and as my career path illustrates, it's one field where you can do a lot of the same things in either public accounting or law."

Law school sharpened his writing, research and analytical skills, while his CPA training in analyzing numbers offers significant advantages.

State and local tax issues are particularly suited to someone with a law degree since it often involves fundamental constitutional issues, he says.

Tax litigation is far more specialized and technical than general litigation.

"I wasn't a moot court person and never imagined myself doing litigation, and while I wouldn't enjoy being in court every day, it's exciting to get up in front a judge to make an argument from time to time and this field provides just the right balance."

Nowak began his career at Miller Canfield and rejoined the firm in 2009, after 16 years at Price Waterhouse Coopers in Detroit.

"Miller Canfield is a firm with a true partnership culture," he says. "Large public accounting firms can become a bit corporate in their culture, and they struggle to maintain the camaraderie of a real partnership. Miller Canfield has a great history, brilliant and passionate people, and I'm honored to be a partner with the firm."

Nowak met his wife Lisa, also a CPA, on his first day at Ernst & Young. Their children attend MSU: Ian, 22, is pursuing a degree in supply chain management, and Erica, 18, is an English major.

A Madison Heights native and grad of Lamphere High School, Nowak has worked in Detroit his whole career, and is a big supporter of the city.

"I grew up with a lot of people who were afraid to visit the city, who didn't know how many wonderful things it had to offer, and I've always felt that changing that attitude is a key to helping the city get back to what it once was," he says.

Nowak, who also enjoys cars, hunting, fishing, skiing, and working around his property in Oakland Township, recently joined the board of the Detroit Historical Society--"a great organization that does an amazing job telling Detroit's story," he says. He also became treasurer for the Cattle Baron's Ball, the American Cancer Society's main Michigan fund-raiser.

"It's an amazing event for a great cause and I'm proud to be involved in it."

Published: Mon, Aug 6, 2012