New advancement council member brings multinational corporate tax perspective


New faculty at the University of Akron School of Law.

Akron Law alumnus Jay Fischbein spent most of his career with Johnson & Johnson.

When Jay Fischbein ‘97, head of ESG tax reporting, strategy & governance at Johnson & Johnson (J&J), was asked to join the Advancement Council last year, his first reaction was, “Why me? I’ve spent my entire career with a multinational corporation, not in a law firm.”

Then-Council Chair Sally Benson ’74, explained that to be effective, the council really needed alumni with different experiences.

”When I thought about it, I realized that a company like J&J offers so many legal career opportunities, whether it's regulatory law, patent law, litigation or other kinds of law,” Fischbein said. “We definitely need more people in the corporate tax world that add diverse perspectives to the profession, so I got really excited and said yes. I can bring that voice of what a career in a multinational might look like.”

That career might never have happened if not for Akron Law.

Fischbein, a native of Centerville, Ohio, near Dayton, graduated from the University of Kentucky with an accounting degree. His first job was as a financial auditor for the state of Tennessee. He did that for about three years, earned his CPA license and decided to apply to law school. He wanted to pursue a career in business, but he wasn’t sure what field. He had a neighbor who was in a graduate program at The University of Akron (UA), and so he visited the friend and the School of Law.

“I just really liked the school. I had a great feeling about how friendly the people were,” he said.

Early in his 1L year, one of his professors, the late Malina Coleman, pulled him aside and urged him to attend an upcoming guest lecture. The speaker was a Yale Law professor, Boris Bittker, who was renowned in the world of corporate tax law. His visit was probably a favor to Coleman, a graduate of Yale Law.

“Professor Coleman invited me and a few other students to go to dinner with Professor Bittker after the lecture. Those other students were all enrolled in the J.D./M.Tax joint program with the College of Business. That was it. I was sold on corporate tax. I signed up for the program the next day and never looked back.”

Following graduation, Fishbein entered the corporate tax world in Cincinnati with Coopers & Lybrand, now part of PwC. A few years in, he got a call from a recruiter about an entry-level tax position with Ethicon Endo-Surgery, a J&J subsidiary in Cincinnati, where his wife, Kelly, worked.

“I initially turned them down because I thought my wife wouldn’t want me working in the same company as her. But when I told her that evening, she had the opposite reaction, and I had to call back the recruiter.”

He ended up working at Ethicon for eight years, rising to tax director.

“After servicing multiple clients in different industries at Coopers, I fell in love with the medical field at Ethicon. You could really see the good they were doing for patients. It was very rewarding.”

Then he got a call from J&J Corporate asking him to join the pharmaceutical tax team in New Jersey.

“Pharmaceuticals is the largest business segment at J&J,” he said. “It’s a little over 50% of our business, and it had a huge tax department. I remember telling my wife I didn’t know if I was going to be able to succeed at that level.”

But he did succeed, and management was paying attention. He had been in that role for going on five years when J&J Corporate called again. The company intended to restructure its diffuse tax operations into a single tax department servicing all segments of the business globally. Management wanted Fischbein to lead the largest region as senior director North America tax operations. He would need to build a department from scratch—everything from people and processes to where the new department would be located.

“I remember laughing,” Fischbein said. “I had this important title but no employees. I had to draw on all the business skills, leadership skills and soft skills that I had learned in my career to that point to create that department.”

Once the task was accomplished, he was promoted again—to vice president of tax for the company’s pharmaceutical segment. He spent seven years in that role, prior to being named to his current position earlier this year.

“I led the company’s global pharmaceutical tax segment,” he said. “We were the bridge between the legal department, the CFO and the business people. We were embedded in business strategy and execution and worked closely with the global supply chain team as we looked to diversify our manufacturing capabilities in the U.S. and abroad, providing strategic tax counsel as they worked to finalize details of our manufacturing footprint.”

“This was the part of my career when I really drew on my legal education,” he recalled. “We wrote and read a lot of contracts, advised on acquisitions, and engaged in a lot of negotiations with tax authorities.”

Fischbein acknowledged that he lost touch with Akron Law during his mid-career years in New Jersey. But in 2013, Akron Law classmate and Philadelphia lawyer Marshall Bleefeld ’97, called Fischbein and suggested they attend an upcoming UA alumni reception in Philadelphia.

“I got reconnected at that event,” Fischbein said. “It reminded me how important a role Akron Law played in my success. I didn’t have a top GPA or LSAT score, so they could very easily have said no, but they took a chance on me. So, Kelly and I made the decision to give back to the program that helped shape me and provided a great foundation for my current career.”

At the suggestion of the UA Department of Development, the couple set up a scholarship that will support students who have financial need and want to pursue a career in public service.

“I joke about corporate tax not being an interesting field, but that’s not true,” Fischbein mused. “I've had the opportunity to do all sorts of amazing things. I’ve had a seat at the top of the ship steering one of the largest companies in the world. I’ve toured sophisticated factories and R&D labs and gotten to meet some brilliant scientists who are way smarter than I’ll ever be and whose work impacts millions of people around the world.”

As for the next generation of lawyers, “This is a very exciting time to get in on the ground floor of the corporate tax world because we are going through a level of international tax reform that may never be seen again. This is a great opportunity for students to help shape the regulatory and business environment for years to come. And what better way to get involved in this field than to prepare for it at Akron Law?”