Alan Gallo, chief audit executive at American Express, recalls a conversation he had with a recent hire. American Express, she told him, was different from other companies that she worked for when it came to leadership and employee opportunity.
“At other companies, if you have someone great on your team, the instinct is to hoard that person because they are a high performer,” she told him. She found it is the opposite at American Express. “The higher the performer, the more the company is asking what other jobs this person can do within the company.”
That, in a nutshell, is Gallo’s own story at American Express. He came to the company thirty-five years ago, right out of college. He initially worked in financial planning and analysis, but around twenty years ago, one of his mentors at the company gave him advice that he took to heart.
“He told me that I had done a good job in finance, but that if I wanted the top jobs, I had to take career risks,” Gallo recalls. “That meant doing something different and taking on roles for which I was not 100 percent qualified. That would force me to grow and evolve. In a sense, it was like being kicked out of the nest.”
He has been flying high ever since.
Gallo is a self-described “New York City guy.” He grew up in a blue-collar family and was the youngest of five brothers. His father worked in the garment industry, and his mother was a nurse. “The day each of my brothers and I turned fourteen, she took us down to get our working papers,” he says.
He held a variety of jobs as a teen, including flipping burgers at Wendy’s and working at Fotomat, the drive-thru photo development kiosks that flourished in the days before digital photography. These different experiences, he believes, prepared him for working at American Express.
Finance was always the plan for Gallo. He worked for an accounting firm during his senior year at New York University. He assumed that he would stay with that firm, but American Express sent a recruiter on campus. A pamphlet caught Gallo’s attention. “It described a rotation program through four different finance departments,” he remembers. “I read that, and I thought that seemed pretty cool. I interviewed on campus and got the job.”
Over the last ten years alone, Gallo has worked in strategy, operations, and consulting roles within the company. “I learned things working on those projects I never would have known if I had remained with the finance roles I had with the company early in my career,” he explains. “About three years ago, they asked me to be the company’s chief auditing executive, and so along with my basic training and finance background, I brought the diversity of perspective that these other roles gave me. It all comes together.”
Gallo leads the company’s internal audit group, whose mission he describes as protecting the company’s organizational value by providing independent assurance over risk and control. “We help the company to handle risk better,” he says. “The internal audit group is called the third line of defense behind the business and risk oversight.”
A current priority is hiring people able to use data analytics in a more sophisticated way to expand the company’s audit coverage and approach to risk management. “It expands the depth and breadth of our coverage to find more issues,” Gallo explains, “and frees up the human beings in the audit department to evaluate more sophisticated questions around risk management such as roles and responsibilities, who does what, and what might fall through the cracks.
While he did not come into the company with audit experience, Gallo enjoys being a direct line to the company’s audit and compliance committee. “That means I can have an impact on the way the company manages risk,” he says. “I like being the leader of a large team, and I enjoy giving advice to younger people on the team and helping them navigate their careers.”
When asked if his younger self would recognize today’s American Express, Gallo notes that he would recognize it in terms of how it feels to work at the company. “Amex has always had a supportive culture,” he says.
He tells future American Express leaders what his mentors told him. “Diversity of experience gives you diversity of perspective, and diversity of perspective is what you need to tackle big challenges and difficult questions,” Gallo says. “Where does wisdom come from? It doesn’t come from doing the same thing over and over your whole life. That will give you expertise in one area, but it doesn’t give you the wisdom to tackle the big problems.”
Congratulations to Alan Gallo on his successful career. KPMG and American Express share a common view where earning and sustaining stakeholder trust is imperative to success. We appreciate our trusted partnership. KPMG provides innovative business solutions, audit, tax, advisory services, and industry insights to many of the world’s largest and most prestigious organizations. We wish Alan continued success!