Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - May 2, 2014

Greg Gallo

Attorney brings corporate savvy to the nonprofit world

by Gennady Sheyner

As one of Silicon Valley's most acclaimed merger maestros, attorney Greg Gallo knows all about shepherding startups from their risky embryo days to corporate stardom.

But it's not his work with clients like Steve Jobs or 3Com that has garnered Gallo a Lifetime of Achievement award this year but his decades of commitment to the nonprofit community, including organizations that serve seniors, children and low-income families. The affable Wisconsin native, who is a partner at DLA Piper, gets routine recognition by national publications as one of the nation's top dealmakers. He helped organize Pixar in its early days, before it went public, and has lectured at Stanford and Berkeley business schools. But while dealing with startups and global corporations is his day job, Gallo is at least as proud of a merger he helped spearhead in 2006, a deal that created the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

It's fitting that mergers are Gallo's specialty. Even as Bay Area's income gap expands, sparking animosity between the growing swell of millionaires at the very top and the priced-out service workers at the bottom, Gallo seamlessly toggles between the worlds of corporate finance and nonprofits. From his perspective, the two worlds have much in common, each requiring understanding of a myriad of legal, personnel and financial issues.

"For me, the similarities are bigger than the differences," Gallo said. "What you're really doing, in both cases, is helping the managers make their organizations successful."

Gallo learned about these similarities in the early 1970s, when he arrived in Palo Alto with his wife, Penny, also an attorney, after a stint in Washington, D.C., to join the newly formed law firm of Ware & Freidenrich, where they became among the first 10 employees. Even then, he knew he wanted to apply his skills as an attorney to helping the community, not just his corporate clients. He also knew that he wanted to deal directly with decision makers, not general counsels on the low tiers of a giant bureaucracy.

"One of the reasons I really came to Palo Alto was because I didn't want to be just a lawyer, working on contracts," Gallo told the Weekly. "I wanted to help people running their enterprises be successful."

Shortly after he moved to Silicon Valley, someone suggested that he volunteer on the board of American Red Cross, Palo Alto Chapter. So he did.

"I found very quickly that the things I did every day for small companies had many similarities with nonprofits," Gallo said. "The work of senior executives, particularly the executive director, and how they manage budgets is very important."

American Red Cross was just the beginning. Since the late 1970s, he has volunteered with Planned Parenthood and later the Senior Services Center, which ultimately became Avenidas. He served on boards, advised top executives and met people who encouraged him to join other boards. All along the way, he took it upon himself to transfer knowledge from the corporate side of his life to the nonprofit world.

Gallo said he is particularly proud of the 2006 merger between the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley, where he served on the board, and the Peninsula Community Foundation. With his assistance, the two mid-sized foundations joined forces to become the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which has evolved into a philanthropic giant with nearly $3 billion in assets.

"It's really remarkable what has been achieved in the first seven or eight years," Gallo said. "We had raised a lot of money and have been very active in supporting the community and other nonprofits. I just think it's making a tremendous difference in the community."

Today, Gallo also continues to make a difference, though he now focuses more on organizations that serve low-income families. He is on the board of Ravenswood Family Health Center and was pleased to see the nonprofit raising enough money to build a new clinic, which will roughly double its capacity to serve individuals who would otherwise depend on emergency rooms for health care. He is also on the board of directors for Innovate Public Schools, an organization that focuses on improving public schools in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. This includes training teachers and assisting with new charter schools.

"Everybody has budget issues; everyone has people issues; everyone has leadership issues," Gallo said. "They're the same. The only differences are the goals."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

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