Posted: January 01, 2011
Colorado Business Hall of Fame: Charlie Gallagher
Private equity executive thinks big in both business and philanthropyBy Lisa Ryckman
Behind every successful businessman, there's probably at least one good piece of advice. For Charlie Gallagher, it's this:
"Observe the turtle: It can't make any progress unless it sticks its neck out."
For more than 45 years, Gallagher has been doing just that - with outstanding results. The chairman and chief executive officer of Gallagher Enterprises LLC, a private equity firm, Gallagher has managed more than 20 middle-market merger, acquisition and divestiture transactions, including 15 leveraged buyouts.
There's no question he does things in a big way.
Gallagher's search for a mountain cabin site ended with the purchase of a 19,000-acre ranch in Grand County, which he turned into a vacation community with top-notch amenities. His most recent yacht, completed this year, is at 281 feet the longest one built in the U.S since the 1930s.
But whether business or pleasure, Gallagher's primary concern is not quantity, but quality.
When he became president and CEO of Denver-based Susquehanna Corp. in 1980, he oversaw a dramatic turnaround. Six years later, he became chairman, CEO and controlling shareholder of Applied Industrial Materials Corp. (AIMCOR), a global leader in industrial carbon products and related services. That same year, Gallagher acquired control of the International Minerals and Chemicals Industrial Group, which he considers his most gratifying business deal.
A graduate of Xavier University with an economics degree, Gallagher began his career with Owens Corning Fiberglass in Toledo, Ohio. In his 20 years there, he developed national marketing campaigns and sales and distribution strategies that made a lasting impact on the company.
Acknowledging that today's business school graduates face a very different world than he did, Gallagher recommends a list of essentials for success: "An excellent education, understanding how they will fit into a global economy, being passionate about their careers and avoiding nonproductive activity - activity traps - in pursuit of their goals," he says.
"It will also be important that this generation gets this country back on track by rebuilding our manufacturing base and instituting government policies that will keep us as the most competitive and productive society in the world," Gallagher says. Helping young people - particularly inner-city youth - with educational opportunities and college scholarships is a main focus of the Gallagher Family Foundation, which Gallagher and his wife, Diane, created in 1997.
Over the years, Gallagher's work in the for-profit arena has been rivaled only by his work for nonprofits. He has served on the boards of National Jewish Health; Denver Art Museum; Regis University; the Boy Scouts of America; Catholic Foundation for the Archdiocese of Denver; the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce; Colorado UpLift; the Metropolitan State College of Denver Foundation; Alliance for Choice in Education; and the Mizel Museum - among others.
But asked to pick one standout, Gallagher says he's proudest of his efforts on behalf of his alma mater, Xavier University in Cincinnati.
"After serving on the board for 20 years, I feel we have been successful in transforming the school to one of the top colleges in the country," he says.
Although Gallagher's philanthropy has been recognized by many of the organizations he and his wife have supported, he considers such work its own reward.
"To those who much has been given, much is expected," Gallagher says. "It is a lot more satisfying to give your treasure away than it is to accumulate it."
Lisa Ryckman is the online editor at cobizmag.com.