James “Jim” Gallo: 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

James “Jim” Gallo
CEO, Specialty Finishing Group

Jim Gallo is someone who knows paths can change.

He was a student at Northern Illinois University when he was hit by a drunk driver in 1980 and lost the use of his legs. “I spent the semester in the hospital, I couldn’t return to Northern,” Gallo said.

James Gallo PhotoHaving to withdraw from school, Gallo ended up enrolling at Harper College, 10 minutes from his hometown of Hoffman Estates. “Everything was pretty accessible,” he said of navigating the campus in wheelchair.

Gallo sees Harper as a stepping stone to his career – which includes an accounting degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, working for the Big 6 auditing company that would become PricewaterhouseCoopers, leading post-press finishing company Specialty Finishing Group, managing his corporate renewal consultancy Gallo Associates and even earning a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.

“I love to write and wanted to become a better writer, so I decided to stop the world and get off,” Gallo said of enrolling at the Medill School of Journalism when he wanted to step away from being a troubled-company consultant.

To polish his skills, Gallo returned to his stalwart Harper to take a writing course with Elizabeth Hull. Enamored with the school’s affordable offerings, he even took a piano course with Mark Mrozinski, now Assistant Vice President of Workforce Development and Executive Dean of Community Education.

“Nothing makes you practice like hanging a grade over your head,” he joked.

Still, Gallo said, “disabled kids are my passion” – a passion he began to fulfill through his involvement playing for wheelchair basketball teams in the 1980s.

In 1987, he co-wrote a proposal for his team to become the Chicago Wheelchair Bulls, affiliated with the NBA team. “[We were] part of the Bulls in the Michael Jordan era,” Gallo reminisced. He and others established a junior wheelchair basketball league, along with Kids Day, a free annual event that introduced disabled kids to their favorite athletes. “The events we had for disabled kids, no one else in the country was doing,” he said.

Service is important to Gallo, who has sat on Harper College’s Board of Trustees (2011–17), has been invited to tell his story to local high schools as part of presentations on smart choices and currently serves as a mentor for a business incubator program for teens at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates.

“It’s hard for me to take all this credit,” Gallo said of being a Distinguished Alumni Award recipient. “People helped me.”