Glenn White is Michigan’s Deputy Treasurer for Revenue Services. Revenue Services is the area of Treasury that collects most of the revenue that the state relies on to operate; it administers the major taxes, and also operates the state’s collection agency. In addition, the area oversees a tax enforcement team that ensures compliance with our tax laws. After 26 years of serving the public as an attorney, a taxation expert and Treasury leader, Glenn recently announced his retirement, effective December 2023. He plans to decompress a little, visit his four adult children, travel, and see what new retirement opportunity develops after the first of the year…
I was a retail business owner for the first half of my career. Although I enjoyed business, I knew I needed to make a change and looked around at my options. My wife suggested law school and my reaction was “you’re crazy!”. I graduated from Michigan State University (MSU) 20 years earlier with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and law school was a real stretch. She convinced me, however, to at least take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) as the first step in decision making. I didn’t have to commit, I just needed to take the first step, which was really a great lesson for me.
I took the LSAT and scored relatively high, which told me I had some kind of affinity for the subject matter, and I started applying to law schools. I ultimately landed at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing; we were expecting our first child and I was able to relieve the babysitter when I didn’t have class. I started law school at age 42, graduated and went to work for MSU in their general counsel’s office for about a year, then went on to New York University (NYU) for a Master of Law in Taxation.
One of my law school professors had recommended a concentration in taxes, and as an older student I thought tax expertise could help jumpstart my career. So I commuted from New York City for a year, living in the Village and flying home as often as I could. I lived on a shoestring because I had a young family; our second son was about 18 months old when I left for my NYU program. The worst part of commuting was returning to New York after a visit home. As we would pull up to airport departures my youngest son would start crying because he knew daddy was leaving. Commuting was difficult, but my degree was an investment my wife and I made, a family investment in our future, and it worked out pretty well.
I didn’t expect to be working for the state with an advanced law degree, but I was influenced a great deal by a professor I had who worked in the Attorney General’s office. I was interviewing with law firms that were focused on billable hours with the clear, company expectation that I would have to sacrifice family life for success. I then talked to my professor about how he liked working for the state. For him, it was about work-life balance and feeling good about what he was accomplishing. I decided that dedicating myself to public service was the right choice for me, too — as my neighbor put it, “You’re the pillar of a community when you’re a public servant” — and I ultimately chose to support friends, family and the people of Michigan through contributing to the state.
Trial Attorney to Treasury Leader
In 1997 I began working for the Attorney General’s office as a trial attorney representing the Department of Treasury. I had a bit of Imposter Syndrome as a middle-aged novice, but as my court cases became increasingly complex I began to trust that maybe I did know what I was doing.
I handled some high-profile cases, some small cases, and got to know leaders in the tax community. My job was to support what I thought was the right interpretation of Michigan tax law; I had no problem and never had a second thought about making sure that a large taxpayer was paying their fair share. It was challenging at times when my case involved a taxpayer who had received bad tax advice or made an error, forcing them to take a second mortgage on their home to pay their taxes.
With my background in taxation, I eventually moved over to work at Treasury as an administrative law specialist and due to a vacancy, moved into the role of administrator of the Tax Policy Division. I was just so impressed by the wicked smart, hardworking people I encountered at Treasury. Employees were using their talents for the Treasury mission, and they cared about serving the public. To me, that was infectious — that’s the kind of team you want to be on, where your knowledgeable colleagues could be considered your mentors.
Twelve years ago, I was honored and a little dumbstruck to be named Deputy Treasurer, and I’ve been reappointed to my position five additional times. My career has shifted over the years, and right now my goals are focused on customer service and operations. We’ve created more self-service tools for taxpayers, providing quicker answers to their questions. Taxes can provoke a lot of anxiety, and if we can help taxpayers with knowledge and support, we can be part of their solution.
On the operations side, we are dedicated to creating a great work environment. As a leader it is my job is to coach my employees, and to help them meet their personal goals so we can meet our organizational goals. I’m not sure I’ve clearly expressed just how much I appreciate the people I’ve worked with at Treasury. I appreciate the grace I’ve been shown and feel very fortunate to have a team that performs with sensitivity, courtesy and professionalism. Their hard work and cooperation have allowed me to enjoy a long tenure, and I am grateful.
Treasury Success Skills
“What would Glenn do?”. I’m very proud of having a really effective team that I can rely on to do everything that needs to get done. At first, I felt like I shouldn’t be assigning projects when I could do the work myself, but my leadership opportunity has taught me that my job is to empower a diverse group of people and set a course for them to sail. They need to know what the mission is and what we are trying to accomplish, and they need to know they can come to me if they get stuck during the process.
Just listen. Listening is such an important tool — it’s really a secret weapon. As a leader, you don’t need to know all of the answers, you just need to know who does! Ask and listen. And please, try to clearly hear what someone is saying first, before forming an opinion or making a judgement.
Communicate your vision. Having a vision of what you want to accomplish is where you start, and then you have to share your plan for getting it accomplished. Your team has to understand the expectations, how they fit into the vision, and what you need them to do to make that vision possible. Plus, everyone has to be accountable for a finished project and positive outcome. People are afraid of the term ‘accountability’ but really it’s just conversation about possibly needing to course correct, do things differently, or tweak the vision because something new has been learned. You can’t divorce employee engagement from this entire process either; being engaged is how people are inspired to take personal responsibility. Engaged employees are a vital, organic part of the overall vision and they get you where you want to go.
Lean into your strengths. In the courtroom, I wasn’t going to be the fanciest writer or the most articulate person at the podium in front of the court. But I could be the more credible person and translate the complex language of taxes into ‘everyman’ language so everyone could grasp what was happening. I found that I had most of my courtroom successes when I could connect on a human level. I think it’s the same way at Treasury, too. We’re all people, and leaders need to engage on an emotional, human level to communicate effectively. It’s also possible to turn a weakness into a strength: I think I’ve suffered enough self-awareness to know what my limitations are, and when I’ve needed to ask for help.
RELATED PODCAST: “A Legacy of Leadership”
Chief Deputy Treasurer Jeff Guilfoyle converses with his long-time friend and colleague Glenn White, Deputy Treasurer for Revenue Services.
The two discuss Glenn’s mid-life career change, his toughest challenges as Deputy Treasurer, and Glenn’s legacy of leadership within the Michigan Department of Treasury.
Listen now: https://bit.ly/3FMZUpN
My Career at MI Treasury is a series designed to highlight the many unique paths to professional success within the department. For current information about Treasury Careers, please visit our website!