Less than 10 years after earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degree at the Maine Business School, Cynthia Bromley Gallagher ’01, ’02G is vice president and deputy controller at AOL, overseeing accounting services operations.
AOL is a premier global media company whose subsidiaries include major on-line news publications, such as Huffington Post, Tech Crunch and Patch.com, as well as the No. 1 online beauty and style site, Stylelist.com, and the No. 2 mapping site, MapQuest.com. AOL operates one of the largest Internet subscription businesses in the U.S. and handles approximately 5 million consumer email accounts.
One of the youngest employees to hold that top management position, Gallagher oversees a 215-member team between her office in Dulles, Va., and in Bangalore, India.
“We are responsible for all back-office processing for AOL and its U.S. subsidiaries,” she says. “This includes operational accounting, sourcing, accounts payable, accounts receivable, customer credit and billing, contract review, leasing, technology enhancements and project management. On a monthly basis we process more than 2,000 revenue deals and $165 million in cash receipts and $100 million in cash payments. My sourcing team has paid for itself 20 times over through saving money in contract negotiations and redoing vendor relationships.
“I am incredibly proud of my entire team. They are all energized to make AOL the leading web services company. We consistently achieve our stretch targets and are looked upon to provide transformational and strategic ideas across the AOL business units. We are also referenced in many industry forums as a model for other organizations.”
Raised in Ellsworth, Maine, where she graduated from high school in 1997, Gallagher enjoys the stimulating and fast paced environment at AOL.
“I love my job,” she says. “The work itself is very challenging. Every day is a new adventure, requiring lots of thought and brain power. From 2001 to 2009 we were part of Time Warner, a large media conglomerate. In 2009 we spun out and created our own identity. There’s a higher degree of pressure now that all eyes are on AOL as a stand-alone entity. We have to make sure our SEC filings are accurate and timely and we have to complete a tremendous amount of detailed analysis on all financial transactions ensuring we are telling our investors the story they need to make wise investment decisions.
“The best thing about my job is the people I coach and guide every day,” she continues. “They make it fun. It’s exciting to mentor people and watch them work through challenges and see the pride on their faces when they reach the right answer.”
Gallagher started her career immediately after graduation, working at a Maryland consulting firm helping Fortune 500 companies, including AOL, improve operations.
“In 2006 the senior vice president of AOL called me and said, ‘we can’t make this work without you.’ He offered me a role as director of accounting. I knew the people and liked the mission of the company so I jumped at the chance.”
Throughout her career, she has continued to fall back on her education at MBS. “Everything I learned in school – accounting principles, business law – affects my day to day duties. I can’t tell you how many times I go to the white board and draw journal entries and T accounts – all things we learn in Accounting 101,” she says, referring to the logging of transactions into an accounting journal and the visual aid used to depict a financial transaction.
An accounting major, Gallagher was one of the first participants in MBS’ five-year program where she pursued a public policy track.
“I enjoyed everything from the classroom work to the public policy offerings to the real life exposure we got by meeting area business people and helping them with the challenges their companies were facing,” she says. “I learned how to structure and critically analyze business problems, make sound decisions, and work effectively with many different types of people. It got me excited about what life would be like after school.”
Her experiences outside class also prepared her for the business world, says Gallagher, recalling an internship in which she helped a local restaurant improve efficiency.
“I designed a point-of-sale system where servers would put customer orders into a computer instead of writing them down on paper. After implementing my system they increased revenue by 20 percent.”
Gallagher says she felt from Day One that MBS was “dedicated to students’ success. The professors really wanted to stay engaged with us and help us stay up to speed with the new things happening in the industry. As a business leader, I’m continuing to do that with my younger employees, helping keep them fresh and in the know about the changing business environment.”
Something else she tells budding entrepreneurs: “Be open to change and be passionate about what you do. Don’t be afraid of failure – look at it as a learning experience.”
When she’s not working, Gallagher keeps busy with her husband Sean and their two little boys. She carves out a few hours a month to serve as finance chair for NOVACO, a local nonprofit that provides housing and education and other services for victims of domestic violence.
Image Description: Cindy Gallagher