I must admit, as a speaking professional, I enjoy presentations to University students. First, they are open to exploring ideas and generally eager to explore what is put before them. Their questions are wide open and that makes the presentation fun. But, more important, from my perspective, if a life can be changed early in a young career, then I will have paid it forward. That inspires me!
I was privileged to speak to business students at the University of Florida and no long there after a young student wrote the following in the Greenback University blog. His article (printed below) is a reflection of the presentation I made the reaction from the perspective of a student participant.
“I learned a lot of things in prison,” said motivation speaker Chuck Gallagher as he crossed the stage. “I found out what it meant to be Chuck Gallagher.”
Gallagher’s words to UF students rang true as he discussed the turbulence of his life in the past ten years.
Formerly a successful CPA and instructor, Gallagher was sentenced to federal prison for embezzling over $254,000 in a Ponzi scheme that later he reflected was a life-changing experience.
How might he be this week’s success profile? Simple. Gallagher’s story reflects a momentous ability to turn the tables after a horrific downfall.
On October 2, 1995, Gallagher took what he calls his “twenty-three steps” to federal prison, losing his CPA license, his relationship with his wife, and his colleagues’ trust.
“I’d absolutely considered myself an ethical person and an honest person at the time,” Gallagher said. “In the mind of a fraudster, I was always going to be able to pay it back.”
Gallagher’s life before his arrest for embezzlement can be said to be a success, built on the motivation to become educated and rise from the lower class.
“My dad died when I was two. My mother didn’t have a high school education,” Gallagher said, explaining his mother’s persistent pressure on him: “She would always say, ‘you can be somebody. Do not be concerned about your circumstances.’”
He took that lesson to heart, becoming the youngest tax partner in a CPA firm at age twenty-six.
One day while Gallagher was teaching a tax course in Boise, he noticed a note on his door from his partner asking him to call the office. During the break in between lectures, he called back. One of the clients had had an emergency. “I need the money,” his partner said.
Gallagher was quiet on stage, expressing the silent hysteria he felt in that moment almost twenty years ago.
“God and I knew the truth,” he said. “I had stolen the money.”
For months following the revealing of his Ponzi scheme, Gallagher considered suicide. “I picked up the telephone and started calling people.” Gallagher received six answering machines before reaching someone, whose immortal words lived on in Gallagher’s conscience: “You have made a terrible mistake, but you are not a mistake. The choices you make today will define your wife and children.”
Gallagher knew then that suicide would not be an option. “I had to admit to everyone, to my wife and children, that I was a liar and a thief.”
Gallagher stressed how simple it was for him to lose sight of ethics. “Everything I had created was an illusion,” he said. “I didn’t recognize it until it was too late.”
Prison is often said to turn a person’s life perspective around, and Gallagher was no exception. “After five years of a normal life, I was sent to an eight by eight holding cell made of cinder block with a toilet and a bench.”
Gallagher went on to explain his experiences in prison and his interactions and friendships with the other inmates. “I was paid twelve cents an hour. I would get up at 6:00 and clean toilets and urinals,” he explained.
When Gallagher was released after sixteen months, he had to start from the bare beginnings. “I worked for a company before prison. They hired me as a sales associate. I went door to door selling cemetery spots.”
Gallagher claims he was only able to move up because of his ability to outperform everyone else. “When you perform, you will get other people’s attention. When you get out of school, your degree will help you get that first job, but after that, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about performance.”
Gallagher is now the senior sales executive for the company, and lectures across the US not only on business ethics but on sales and marketing as well. He lives by the moral guidelines instilled in him from his experience as a white collar convict. “I learned that every choice has a consequence. If you are 100% truthful, you’ve got nothing to lose, but if you break someone’s trust either in business or in a relationship, that relationship will not survive.”
I appreciate the report, but more importantly I am thankful for the opportunity I have to share with students in both the US and Canada. It’s funny, but in a presentation at another University a professor asked me, “What theory of ‘ethics’ do you follow?” I pondered the question for a moment and then replied. “I follow the theory of ethical choices that keeps you out of prison.” Somehow that response seemed to stiffle the professor, but was incredibly well received by the students. I guess when you get down to it, my job is to influence the students!
Here’s the link to the Greenback University blog.
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