If there’s one lesson Cristina Gallo-Aquino has learned throughout her career, it’s the importance of nurturing relationships with supervisors, colleagues, and staff. In fact, she credits good relationships with helping her arrive quickly at her current position as controller and vice president at $5.1 billion Ryder System at age 37.
“Because of my willingness to go the extra mile and help out everybody, whether I considered it in my job description or not,” Gallo-Aquino says, “I built very good relationships, and all these other people within other departments realized the value I was bringing to the position.”
As Gallo-Aquino’s responsibilities, and her team, have grown, she has come up with creative ways to keep good vibes alive. Team members pass around small stuffed animals (dubbed “interns”) as a reward for “going the extra mile” for a colleague. Before the toy is passed on to a next deserving colleague, team members jot down a note describing a lesson the “intern” learned while it stayed on their desk and place it in the toy’s box. Every quarter, the notes are read aloud at a staff meeting."
“Developing people has been a challenge, but it’s something I try to focus on, and I love it when I see people to continue to grow,” Gallo-Aquino says. “Seeing their success makes me feel that I could have been part of that.”
Before she joined Ryder in 2004 as director of corporate accounting, Gallo-Aquino worked at LNR Property and KPMG. She has a B.S. in accounting and an M.B.A. from Florida International University.
How did you know you wanted to work in finance?
It just came very naturally to me. I went to college, and I already knew my path, so I took the courses that I needed right from the start. As I explored the different aspects of the accounting profession, I decided on public accounting. I worked at KPMG for about seven years, but then I discovered the partner track was not where I wanted to go, because in accounting you’re always reviewing someone else’s work. I wanted the work to be mine.
What has been your biggest learning experience?
I’ve learned you can’t make everybody happy all the time, especially in accounting, where you may not have the answer they want to hear. It goes back to the importance of building strong relationships. You have to have strong relationships to be able to have those difficult conversations.
Are there particular challenges when you do acquisitions?
With acquisitions, there’s always pressure. We do a lot of due diligence, and everybody expects that you will find any issue or flush out any concern in just two or three weeks, but sometimes you find something after the fact. You close on the deal, and you’re integrating, and other things pop up. But you learn with every single acquisition. You revisit your process, and you say, “This is what I could have done differently to make sure I caught that.”
What do you like best about your job?
I love coming to work every day and knowing that I’m coming to a place where my ideas are going to be heard, where I feel I can contribute something. And I love the people I work with. They’re all really good people. I love coming here and feeling like I’m just a step away from home.
Have you had mentors? Was the person who recruited you to come to Ryder a mentor?
Yes, he was, and still is today. But so is my current boss, who was the controller and became the CFO. And, because I’m a woman in a trucking company, and our entire leadership team is male, I also have sought out other women in higher levels within the organization to talk with them about some of the challenges they have faced, and how they were able to make it to where they are in the organization.
What advice would you offer to people who are just starting out in finance or accounting, or studying it?
Learn as much as they can about the field. Reach out to people at companies, try to be part of the business groups at college, which offer some insight into the different fields within the profession.
What skills matter most?
Communication skills are extremely important. When you’re in finance, you will deal with a lot of people who are not. You have to be able to communicate to your boss, who’s very savvy about the numbers, as well as the other person who has never looked at any numbers, but who has to make a decision based on the profitability of a project. Knowing who your audience is, and how to communicate to them, is very important.
What skills of your own would you like to improve?
It’s around developing people. Because of the experience I have to date, I feel a lot of times I know the answers, and I may not give people the opportunity to find the answers for themselves, which may stifle their development a bit. That’s one of the challenges of developing my direct reports.
For the complete 2011 40 Under 40 list, see Ready to Take Charge.
You can find more coverage of the 40 Under 40 list here.