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200 Renaissance Center
Suite 3900
Detroit, Michigan 48243

Joe Gaglio

By Danny Fenster
October 13, 2014

Surveying the crowd at Great Lakes Coffee one recent afternoon, Joe Gaglio, principal in risk advisory practice for Deloitte, has an idea. “We could take everyone here,” he says, scanning the tables of twenty- and thirty-somethings typing away on iPads and Macbook Airs, “and we could easily go plant pots of flowers outside, improve the side scape of this place.”

“But,” he continues, “if we took all of these people and said, what are your skills? If we ask, how do we contribute that to the community?” He leans back and ponders this. “That’s not an easy riddle to solve,” he says. “That’s a much larger discussion.”

It’s a discussion Gaglio has been involved in since taking a job with the Detroit office of Deloitte—the international firm of tax, finance and risk management consultancy—in 1999. Since 2000, Deloitte has run a national program called IMPACT Day. The basic concept, says Gaglio, is to give employees a day off devoted to volunteerism. “It’s not meant to be the only day we do that, but it’s a kind of celebratory day to do it, and to kind of reflect,” he says.

A lot of the early work with IMPACT Day involved the sort of flower-planting, streetscape improvement projects Gaglio first considers. But it wasn’t long before he began imagining new ways for the company to have greater impact.

“By 2006,” he says, “I got really inspired around building skills-based volunteerism—not just, ‘how can I make a positive impact,’ but, ‘how can I create or identify on-ramps for others to get engaged with their skills, rather than their hands?’”

One of the first projects saw Gaglio, representing Deloitte in a contingent of young professionals through the United Way’s Leadership Next program, sitting across a table from teachers and principals at Cody High School. “We had people from Ford, from Comerica, from Deloitte, with the latent intellectual capital of those firms, asking how we could help in a sustainable way,” he says. The principals and teachers, consumed by the day-to-day of running the schools, asked only for paper, pencils, and erasers. “It was a hard question for them to answer,” he says; “there was no clear understanding of what the range of options could be.”  

Gaglio and the other young professionals began by spending time in the schools, getting to know the teachers and students and observing the classrooms. Initially, he says, “what everyone sort of universally agreed upon was that bringing some experiences from outside of the neighborhood into the school would be helpful.” This began as something like a career fair, Gaglio says, but soon evolved.

In the past four or so years, what seems to have stuck at the schools he works with is a concept called Deloitte Academy, which introduces promising students to a Deloitte environment and shares leadership development strategies with them. “It gets them around our young, inspired leaders,” Gaglio says, and shows them why education can really pay off.

A student last year, Gaglio says, “stood up, at the end of it, and said, ‘Hey, look, I really wasn’t thinking about college before this. Now, I am definitely going to college.’”

“From my perspective, if in that room you have one kid whose course has changed,” he says, “that’s all I need to measure.”

Attempts to list the projects in which Gaglio has become involved in can be dizzying. Since the Cody High project he has become Vice Chairman of the United Way’s Leadership Next program, and serves on a slew of cabinets and advisory boards for the large, regional nonprofit.

At that table early on in Cody High with him was Chris Uhl, then a banker at Comerica, and Matt Clayson, then with ePrize. Uhl has since become vice president of social innovation at the Skillman Foundation, and he and Gaglio are regulars at the Green Garage, in Midtown, where they are often available for advising and consulting to the small, Detroit-based businesses starting up or transitioning through growth there. Gaglio is particularly excited about Final Five Productions, a multimedia production company out of the Green Garage run by Matt Dibble, whom Gaglio is helping manage the company’s recent spurt of rapid growth.

Clayson has since become the Director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, where Gaglio mentors and sits on the advisory board.

Another regular at the Green Garage is Nick Gorga, part of the team behind Hatch Detroit, the annual storefront retail competition that awards $50,000 in start-up capital and services to winning retail business plans. Gaglio serves as an advisor to Hatch Detroit as well.

He also works with Michigan Corps—a group working to “connect, develop and fund” social entrepreneurs throughout the state. Gaglio helped them establish a Kiva funding model—which enables individual to grant micro-loans—in Michigan.

Throughout Gaglio’s varied community work, from Cody High school to Hatch Detroit and the Green Garage, some common themes emerge. The major factors he tends to focus on, he says, are education reform and the strengthening of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

A perfect example of a blending of the two might be the Detroit Food Academy, a nonprofit that teaches Detroit youth about food and social entrepreneurship through experiential learning projects in food-related businesses. Gaglio is an advisor to the group, working closely with co-founder and board president Noam Kimelman.

He is also working on new ways for Deloitte to get involved in education and entrepreneurship, building a bridge with the company and Excellent Schools Detroit, for example—a coalition working at improving public school performance.

“I actually didn’t have much intention of returning [to Michigan]," Gaglio says of the time he graduated college, a triple major in Business, Accounting and IT at the University of Cincinnati. But the woman that became his wife was teaching here, and had given him something of an ultimatum.

“Basically, the deal was, if you want to be with her, you’re gonna move back,” he says.

He became almost immediately interested in the large issues the region was facing, and this interest hasn’t waned. He is still engaged in the discussion around how to build the capacity for lasting, skills-based volunteerism in Detroit.

In addition to helping raise entrepreneurs and small businesses into periods of growth, he and his wife are now raising a family here.

“It was the best decision I could have made,” he says of his return.

Photos by Doug Coombe.

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