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Rising Through Resilience: “You need to know your ‘why’ to develop resilience”, With Giovanni Gallo

Know your why — While we were searching for a company to buy (which turned out to be ComplianceLine), I was working on the riskiest and most independent job of my career, plus I got engaged, got married, and had my first son. Long days, disappointing outcomes, the witching hour, and my dedication to supporting […]

Know your why — While we were searching for a company to buy (which turned out to be ComplianceLine), I was working on the riskiest and most independent job of my career, plus I got engaged, got married, and had my first son. Long days, disappointing outcomes, the witching hour, and my dedication to supporting my wife and being there for my family were often hard to fit in a single day. But they would have been impossible if I couldn’t regain focus on the outcome that would make it all worth it. For me, that was the prospect of changing the lives of dozens (soon to be hundreds) of people by serving them and providing a stable, meaningful, exciting, and fulfilling job.


I had the pleasure to interview Giovanni Gallo. Giovanni is Co-CEO and Chief Development Officer of ComplianceLine. He has a B.S. in Finance and Accounting from Indiana University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I grew up in a family where both parents worked hard through times when we couldn’t afford much. My father came to this country as a refugee from Cuba and both my parents taught us if you work hard, treat people right, put God first there is a lot of beauty and opportunity in this country. By modeling servant leadership, building a successful business, and prioritizing education our parents set my brother and me on the path we are on today. We were the first in our family to graduate college, and after learning the ropes from professional services and jobs at larger companies, we ran at our lifelong dream to build a world-changing company together by joining ComplianceLine in 2016. Since then we’ve worked every day to build the team and services that change the world by making over six million employees across 100 countries safer through culture-transforming integrated compliance solutions.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

On July 17th, 2016, we were “handed the keys” to ComplianceLine as the new leaders and majority owners of a nearly 20-year old company. We had a warm handoff and introduction from some great founders who had built the company from scratch, but understandably also a lot of questions and nervousness from the team about what these “young new bosses” would be like! We learned that it’s best to go slow to go fast. Everyone has heard of the new owners coming in and, in the pursuit of a fast buck, wrecking not only service and culture but also the lives of the dedicated employees that built a company to that point. We continue to have big dreams for the ways ComplianceLine can improve people’s lives, but when people’s livelihoods are at stake the way you do something is arguably more important than what you get done and how quickly. Secondly, we learned that transforming a culture takes attention and dedication to people as individuals and the hearts that drive them. It can be slow, hard work, but it can also be the best thing that you do for your business and your team!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We stand out because we actually care. Imagine that! Anyone who shops for or manages vendors, in business or even at home, knows that third-party providers are marked by over-promised sales pitches, disappointing follow-through, and an infuriating and never-ending battle to get the quality and attention you need to get the job done. To a person, the caring compliance professionals at ComplianceLine care about our CL Family, our clients (and the tough job they have to do), and the daughters, grandfathers, and single moms who are the employees they’re charged to care for.

A client called us on a Thursday with news of a tragic crisis that would affect hundreds if not thousands of their employees. A full expose would be printed just days later. The client needed us to be prepared to handle up to 100x the volume of calls we normally take for them in a day. Dozens of people from our team rallied and worked over the weekend to train people on a specialized process, set up a new software instance that would take other companies months to launch and create the protocols and quality assurance to handle a massive increase in volume with only three days’ notice. We got the job done. This is just one recent example of how people on our team take seriously the opportunity to help our clients, and they step up well beyond the normal borderlines of their job to “find a way to say yes” and be true servants to our clients’ needs.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Each day I stand on the shoulders of hundreds of people who have guided me, encouraged me, and given me opportunities. My grandparents and parents, Bob Kopniski, David Haeberle, David Schuppan, and Todd Tracey are but a few.

But the most constant and greatest impact has come from my mentor, business partner, best friend, and brother Nick Gallo. From protecting me from bullies when we were perpetual new kids to showing me the ropes of career planning and job interviewing and now his daily collaboration and sharpening he’s been a blessing from God for 35 years. We were pursuing a company partnership before we found ComplianceLine and despite our best efforts, the partnership fell apart. I was fatigued to consider starting back at square one the next morning, looking for a new partnership. In typical Nick Gallo fashion, he put me back together as we talked about the lessons we were learning, he defended me against my internal criticism, and he brought me back to set my sights on the dream we were pursuing. The consummate visionary, Nick has always been great at keeping the big thing the big thing and working tenaciously to find a way around over or through an obstacle to pursuing a worthy goal. I got back to the grind the next day and although things didn’t seem to turn around right away, we stuck at it and eventually ended up by God’s grace at ComplianceLine doing work we love together!

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I’d say resilience is a defiant persistence toward a goal despite the presence of severe or repeated obstacles. Resilient people have a store of energy to withstand a tough break. They have the personality, discipline or habits to focus on the right things to keep going. And they have the vision or passion to trudge toward the mountaintop when they’re in the shadow of the valley!

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

I think of Louis Zamperini, profiled in the book, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. He got shot down in his plane, was stranded at sea, and was beaten and forced to work in a labor camp under terrible conditions. He went through a series of trials, any one of which might break a mere mortal, but he largely kept hope, survived, and made it home to his family.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

When my brother and I set out to raise money to invest in and grow an unidentified company, many people thought we were crazy. Who would give you money? What makes you think someone will want to sell their company to you? How can you be able to run it successfully? You’re going to work with your brother every day?

We were hardly the first to do it, and it didn’t come easy, but we are passionate about doing things that matter with excellence, and we believe that giving HR and compliance leaders the tools and information to care for their people and providing a thriving work environment for smart people who care definitely matters. The pursuit of that excellence every day keeps working our resilience muscles.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

When I was in high school I was a pretty dedicated wrestler. I played three sports and always prioritized academics, but I was competitive and driven to succeed most in wrestling. In my sophomore year, I had high hopes to place in the state tournament after making varsity and qualifying for the state tournament my freshman year. Those hopes were dashed to pieces when an early Regional tournament match, two tournaments and more than 10 wins away from my goal, went into overtime where I was disqualified for a penalty I felt was miscalled by the referee. My season was over.

I learned then that when something matters I can’t leave the outcome up to chance or someone’s subjective judgment. I skipped the football season the following year to train for wrestling and worked to win by a clear margin in every match. I learned a valuable lesson and had the longest winning streak of my wrestling “career” that year!

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

Most people are shocked to imagine it, but we moved a lot growing up so I had been to 10 different schools by the time I started high school. My parents sacrificed a lot to find good jobs, get us better housing, and get us into the best public schools they could make work. It taught me a lot about entering new situations, dealing with social challenges, and the difference between what you can say goodbye to vs. the important things that stay with you like family, character, and good habits.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Force self-denial — You need to build muscle memory in overcoming base urges to work on things that serve your “higher self.” In college, I filled my schedule with running a startup, a full course load, a business fraternity (Delta Sig!), and club leadership to build discipline and stamina for long workdays after graduation.

Get out of your comfort zone — When looking for investments in private equity, I was uncomfortable speaking to business leaders as a young professional. I knew I’d never get better staying where I felt safe, so I forced myself to sign up and attend a conference and set daily goals for cold introductions and conversations beyond small talk.

Know your why — While we were searching for a company to buy (which turned out to be ComplianceLine), I was working on the riskiest and most independent job of my career, plus I got engaged, got married, and had my first son. Long days, disappointing outcomes, the witching hour, and my dedication to supporting my wife and being there for my family were often hard to fit in a single day. But they would have been impossible if I couldn’t regain focus on the outcome that would make it all worth it. For me, that was the prospect of changing the lives of dozens (soon to be hundreds) of people by serving them and providing a stable, meaningful, exciting, and fulfilling job.

Reflect and learn — Late in my first year after joining ComplianceLine we got some tough feedback from a major client. Despite honest efforts across several teams on our side, we had missed the mark and let our client down. In processing the feedback we were able to discern blind spots in our quality assurance process and we built a new dedication to understanding the voice of the customer to better anticipate needs and prevent errors like that going forward. It made it easier to bounce back and helped us increase our pace of learning.

Separate the action from the actor — Sometimes you can’t find a silver lining. In our second year at ComplianceLine, we lost a key employee on short notice that caused significant disruption to our team. It was easy to beat myself up for not having a better contingency plan in place, and we had a tough road ahead. Zig Ziglar said, “A failure is an event, not a person,” and it’s important to realize that unsuccessful actions don’t define us as failures. I was able to identify the assumptions and decisions that left our company vulnerable without losing confidence in our ability to lead. We focused on solving the problem instead of licking our wounds and were stronger after the storm.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to see the biggest companies and the most successful people honestly measure themselves and their companies by how well they serve the needs and dreams of their employees and genuinely make the lives of everyone they impact — not just the people with the most money, influence, or power — better. I don’t mean restating your profit KPIs in some vanity “impact metric” (writing mortgages becomes funding dream homes, selling combo meals becomes feeding communities).

I mean thinking deeply about how your culture allows people to be harmed or left out on your watch. I mean dedicating work hours, profit margin, and equity percentages (gasp!) to serve not just your shareholders, not just your reputation, but to serve the security, personal growth, and thriving of the individual people who give their time (employees), money (customers), and resources (community) to your company. I feel we in Western Culture have plenty of fancy gadgets, beautifully designed baubles, and dopamine-inducing deals. What we need are more leaders willing to look past quarterly earnings and what they’re forced to do by the letter of the law or fed up victims with lawyers, and look to the dignity of wielding their power to reduce suffering and make the lives of real people better … And guess what — if you do that well, your shareholders will have plenty of investment return and they won’t lose it all when your toxic culture finally comes to light!

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

I would love to meet and break bread with Mary Barra. She is such an inspiring example of a transformational leader in the way she built her career, refocused GM on its core, and is building toward a brighter future that demands fundamental changes in assumptions and culture. I’d love to pick her brain on how tomorrow’s holistic leaders can pave the way for more women to thrive and shine in the workplace, for industrial workers to continue to anchor the economy in new ways, and for closed cultures to adapt through communication and transparency.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

The best place is LinkedIn where I share and write about compliance excellence, cultural transformation, and leadership: www.linkedin.com/in/giovanni-gallo

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