Beyond The Bottom Line: A Successful Career In Finance Propels A Passion For Giving Back
For many, a career is defining—it shows who you are, what you know and what you have accomplished. But for Alex Galeano (BSAC ’98, MBA ’09) a career in finance and his current role as vice president and controller for the National Association of Broadcasters have merely served as stepping stones for his life’s bigger purpose.
Galeano and his family came to the United States when he was 11 years old, leaving behind a life in Nicaragua that was very different from the one he went on to build in America. But he never forgot his roots, and today, he draws on lessons from higher education and a career in finance to run a nonprofit that gives back to the community he left long ago. “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back to think, ‘I was a really great controller,’” he says. “While I get a lot of satisfaction out of my career, I believe there is more to life than that.”
The oldest of four boys, Galeano’s start in the U.S. was humble, like that of many immigrants. “We lived with another family in a small house near my father’s job at a waste disposal company. We couldn’t start school right away because our paperwork had to transfer, so my father taught us English at night. We were able to start school with a basic understanding of the language,” recalls Galeano. The family also joined a church, where, at age 11, Galeano met Julie, the girl who would one day become his wife. “She still has letters I wrote to her as a boy,” he recalls.
THE FIRST STEP
Like many Strayer University students, Galeano had to balance the demands of work, school and family. After graduating from high school, Galeano enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College and landed a job at a small accounting firm. He then transferred to Strayer University and earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting.
From there, he moved to Mirant Corp. (now GenOn Energy), which exposed him to new areas within the accounting field. “The company had physical assets—coal, oil, generators and turbines—that created a lot of capital work that was new for me, but also interesting,” he explains. “If company leaders wanted to replace a $40 million turbine or alter the amount of coal inventory, it was up to me to run an analysis on whether that was feasible.”
Although Galeano wasn’t able to accomplish one goal at the company—driving a bulldozer over large piles of coal—he did celebrate other important milestones, including getting married and becoming a certified public accountant.
ROOM TO GROW
At the start of his career, Galeano sought to gain experience in any form. But as he progressed, his focus soon turned to a deep-rooted desire for mission-oriented work. “I wanted to work for a company with a social mission so that I could provide value beyond the bottom line,” he says.
That opportunity came at AARP, a large, member-based organization for people over the age of 50. “I immediately saw the impact of my work on others, which was a great motivator for wanting to do my job well,” says Galeano, who was promoted several times at the association, culminating as senior manager of accounting.
“From hunger-fighting initiatives to income tax preparation programs to employment and legal assistance, AARP programs reach millions of seniors,” he says. “I found it very rewarding to be a part of this mission and to apply my skills to support this lifechanging work.”
At AARP, Galeano saw gaps in his knowledge that an MBA would help fill, so he returned to Strayer University for his graduate degree. “I wanted to gain the tools that would enable me to participate more fully at work and to find new opportunities,” he says. “I believe you have to give 110% in all areas of your life. It’s important to recognize when you need to step up.” Today, as vice president and controller for the National Association of Broadcasters, Galeano draws on the accounting and management skills acquired over the course of his career to direct his team in meeting the needs of more than 1,800 TV stations and 6,000 radio stations across the country “What I like about this job is that it integrates much of my experience and background into one position,” he says. “I have to think more strategically in this role and bring everything I have learned together.”
BUILDING A FOUNDATION
With his career and education on solid ground, Galeano turned his attention to other areas. Throughout his life, he has made regular trips to Nicaragua to visit family, including his grandmother, who was known for helping others. “I saw firsthand how my grandmother touched lives by providing basic needs for the community, such as water, food and clothing,” he says. “It’s safe to say that she helped thousands of people through her outreach efforts, without a formal foundation structure or dedicated outside funding.” When his grandmother passed away in 2008, Galeano wanted to honor her work and ensure that it continued. He co-founded a nonprofit in 2009 called Ebenezer International Outreach (Ebenezer is a biblical term that means “stone of help”). “I wanted to continue my grandmother’s legacy, so I looked at the tools and experiences I’ve been given in life and decided to put those to use,” he says.
Galeano filed for 501(c)(3) status, recruited volunteers and outlined projects for the nonprofit, starting by sponsoring a community his grandmother once supported. Since 2009, the foundation has distributed more than five tons of food to families in need. In July 2012, Galeano, his family and a group of 35 volunteers arrived in the village to start construction of a new, accredited elementary school that will serve 75 students. The school is located on the site of a hut where his grandmother had once distributed goods. “I am blessed to be surrounded by people with the same passion as me,” he says. And the foundation continues to grow. This summer, more than 60 volunteers, including a team of dentists, will visit the community, and the group will fill a 40-foot container with supplies that will be shipped by Chiquita Brands to Nicaragua.
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and, according to Galeano, it’s a tough place to grow up. “When you’re there, you get a sense of scarcity of resources—food, clothes, water—but also hope,” he says. “Kids can’t dream because they are focused on meeting daily basic needs. They need someone to help them meet those basic needs, so they can have space to dream, to set goals for their lives.” It’s also important to Galeano that his sons, ages 8 and 5, understand that not all lives are like theirs. “This project has made a real impact on my kids,” he says.
“Since visiting the community last summer, they are always thinking about the children there and collecting items to send them. It’s made my boys more appreciative of what they have here.” With a strong commitment to all areas in his life, Galeano has little time for luxuries, like sleep. “You can sleep from midnight to 6 a.m.,” he says. “I always want to give my best—to my kids, to my work, to my education. It’s important to give everything you have to everything you do. I do not want to have any regrets for how I spent my life.”
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