When Michelle Gallardo has a dream, she sets herself on the path to achieving it—even when it means making a major career pivot. One such pivot brought her to HARMAN International, where she fulfilled her dream of becoming a global technology lawyer.
“I joined HARMAN because I understood that technology and software were becoming increasingly important,” the former senior director and senior counsel of global data privacy, data security, and compliance explains. “HARMAN was executing its own pivot into the technology space, so it was a great opportunity for me to advise clients globally in the context of a technology company.”
As she now turns her attention to new dreams, Gallardo reflects on her career journey up to this point, from her earliest inspirations to the lessons she has learned on her way to becoming a leader.
Gallardo grew up in a household with a strong tradition of service. “I think of myself as a servant leader,” she says. “My parents, a nurse and a policeman, both had jobs that served our community. My dad was the first Latino police officer in the town where I grew up. He was a leader for the Latino community. I was raised with the idea that community service is an important part of life, and I’ve tried to incorporate that idea into my career. It is natural for me that my professional life should include finding opportunities to help people.”
That philosophy has led Gallardo to leverage her legal expertise in support of causes close to her heart. She gained early litigation experience doing pro bono work on behalf of domestic violence survivors. She has more recently volunteered on national projects promoting diversity and equity within the legal profession.
Much to her surprise, these efforts outside of her day job have fueled her development as both an attorney and a leader. She recommends that all young attorneys look for ways to give back. “Find opportunities to volunteer in subjects that are interesting to you,” she urges. “It helps develop your confidence and your skillset so that you also become better as a lawyer and a leader.”
In addition to learning through external service projects, Gallardo has been intentional about expanding her knowledge in each role she has held. She first became in-house counsel at Ford Motor Company practicing employment law. “The scale of the company was so much more than I imagined, and it gave me a different perspective on how business operates,” she reflects. “It was an amazing opportunity for me to become more involved in the business and change the trajectory of my career.”
Gallardo was eventually able to pivot into a role as a business lawyer at Ford Motor Company.
She served for eight years as the primary legal advisor for a division of Ford with $6 billion in annual revenue, large enough to be on the Fortune 500 as a separate company. While in that position, she began to recognize the significant implications of technology for the future of all industries. “That’s where I developed the dream of becoming a technology lawyer,” she says.
Moving to HARMAN provided Gallardo an opportunity to become a technology lawyer on a global scale. “As I grew my skill set in that area at HARMAN, I started to understand that the data captured with the technology was just as important as the technology itself,” she adds. With that realization, Gallardo homed in on data as a crucial area of focus for herself and for HARMAN—a move that resulted in the then general counsel appointing her the organization’s inaugural data privacy leader.
“I’ve built a global data privacy program for a multinational technology company with $10 billion in revenue at a time when technology, data security, and data privacy laws are all changing rapidly,” she says. Fortunately, the rapid rate of change aligns with her commitment to lifelong learning. “To continue to grow and develop as a lawyer, especially in the technology space, you have to be open and committed to learning about new subjects that are relevant to your specialty.”
Gallardo is looking forward to continuing her work as a technology lawyer, which includes data privacy and data security, in her new role at fintech company North American Bancard. Beyond taking this next step in her career, she also hopes to get more involved in efforts related to equity as it relates to technology.
“I’m very excited to join North American Bancard and focus on fintech at such an important time for the industry. I’m also excited to bring together the two parts of my career: my day job as a technology lawyer and my passion for diversity and equity,” she says.
Recently, Gallardo joined Angeles Investors to support start-ups founded by Latino founders. “I feel really fortunate to be a lawyer who had a dream and who was able to execute it, and I feel even more fortunate that I’ve been able to have a long career with many new dreams.”