An Honorable Man: Channel Remembers John Gallagher

"You could talk to 100 people and you wouldn't find anybody that has a bad thing to say about him," Jack Zoblin said.

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

May 10, 2024

10 Min Read
John Gallagher

Common Sense Technologies CEO John Gallagher taught family, friends and colleagues the meaning of partnerships in his more than 30 years working in the channel.

Gallagher died on April 26 from complications of pulmonary fibrosis, survived by his wife Nancy and daughters Michelle, Danielle and Janel.

Gallagher leaves behind a legacy of service and philanthropy in the greater Philadelphia area. Moreover, members of the indirect technology sales channel also say he left a lasting impact on the their professional community. He started his first agency business 1989 and eventually co-founded Common Sense with his wife Nancy in 1998. Over the years he helped customers navigate an ever-evolving telecom landscape. The business stayed strong through multiple industry disruptions and helped multiple emergent vendors launch their go-to-market efforts.

While Gallagher's subagent and supplier partners noted his business accolades, they said they will remember him for his character.

"John was probably the single most honorable man that I had ever done business with in this industry. A humble man, a man of character, a man of ethics," said Gary Coben, senior vice president and channel leader at Evolve IP.

For Khali Henderson, former editor-in-chief of Channel Partners magazine and now senior partner at BuzzTheory, Gallagher was "someone you can count on."

"He had no airs about him – 'what you see is what you get,' as they say. And what you got was a standup guy who would help you when you needed it and be honest with you when you needed that, too," Henderson said.


Gallagher learned values of entrepreneurship and salesmanship at an early age. He ran a paper route, sold fruit door-to-door and later started a Christmas tree business. One of six children, Gallagher would often involve his siblings in his business ventures, his daughter Danielle said.

After graduating from Penn State University with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, he managed restaurants and later a fruit and produce business. He did a stint selling insurance before the telecom world came calling.

Gallagher sold for the long-distance reseller US Wats, where he met lifelong friend Jack Zoblin.

Gallagher went out on his own in 1989 to start a Verizon-exclusive reseller with a partner. Zoblin said at the time Verizon offered a robust solution to pair a T1 network with the last mile.

Gallagher began gaining a reputation for himself as an expert on all things Verizon. He helped other companies – including competitors – place orders in the complicated Verizon system.

"John was always known as 'Mr. Verizon.' That was sort of what a lot of people called him and kind of his claim to fame," said Vince Bradley whose tech services distributor WTG Gallagher later turned to in order to expand into other suppliers.

Making Pivots

Gallagher and his wife Nancy founded their own company, Gallagher and Associates in 1998, and would soon pivot into a pure agent model that sold more than one vendor.

Many telecom salespeople started their own agencies in the 1990s and 2000s. The model offered freedom from the constraints of the corporate world, as well as freedom for a sales person to take a carrier-neutral approach to procuring telecom services.

More providers were opening up the option for independent sales agents to earn a monthly commission for the lifetime of the contracts they sold, and partners like Zoblin were encouraging Gallagher to try it out.

At the same time, Bradley and his new company were seeking to break into the East Coast market. Gallagher was one of the first partners Bradley met in the region.

Bradley he recalls his fist visit to Gallagher's office and the palpable sense of excitement in the air.

"It was just buzzing. You could feel the energy. And it really was the enthusiasm of Mr. Gallagher," Bradley told Channel Futures.

Gallagher had a way of talking with his hands, Bradley said.

"He was a master hand-talker. His enthusiasm was so much that it was showing up all over his body, mainly with his hands," Bradley said.

That matches with what other friends and family say about Gallagher's exuberance.

“When we were growing up, people would say he was like a leprechaun because he was always happy, had a smile on his face, running around with lots of energy and helping others. Everyone enjoyed his company," said Gallagher's daughter, Michelle Doerr, who worked with him at Common Sense.

The Gallaghers embraced the multivendor model and would continue to keep a pulse on the channel's evolution. Sources said Gallagher was an early adopter of VoIP and later unified communications as a service (UCaaS).


"He was smart enough to see the whole long-distance game and definitely see VoIP," Zoblin said. "He saw what was happening, and he saw the consolidation of all the carriers. He knew what was going to happen because he had that Verizon background."

The pivot to a pure agent model was part of the reason Gallagher and Associates rebranded to Common Sense Technologies.

A Family Business

His daughter, Michelle, joined Common Sense in 2005 as support and operations manager, and Danielle followed in 2016 as sales and marketing manager. Growing up, they didn't understand very well the niche business model in which their father operated. But when they joined the business, they soaked up the industry knowledge John was eager to share.

“I've learned so much from working for him," Danielle said. "My sister and I joked that if we had to hear about the divestiture and the Baby Bells one more time, we might just leave the business."

Common Sense is a rare example of an agent owner passing the business on to their children. Many tech advisors nearing the end of their career have chosen instead to sell their book of business. Many Philadelphia area agencies, including Cory, sold, and Gallagher had suitors.

But his decision came down to how his family would be impacted.


"He would not do anything that wouldn't protect his daughters' long-term future," Wirt said. "He built that business so he could turn it over to them."

Danielle said Gallagher brought up the topic with her and Michelle.

“He even said at one point, 'Really this is up to you, because you're the ones that are going to be carrying this on.' It was never completely off the table," Danielle said.

However, Michelle and Danielle entering the business had created a balance that allowed Nancy and John to relax day-to-day responsibilities and enjoy their retirement.

Of course, Gallagher could never have actually fully retired, his daughters said. At 75-years-old, he was still keeping his finger on the pulse of the market.

"He never would have been able to retire," Danielle said. "I don't know what he would have done. He doesn't sit still.”

Despite the active career Gallagher led, he remained focused on his family. Both his daughters and his grandchildren received his doting, Michelle and Danielle said.

“He never missed a thing. As busy as he was with work, family was always his priority," Danielle said.

A True Partner for Suppliers

Gallagher built a reputation for helping emerging vendors launch into the Philadelphia area. When desktop-as-a-service provider Evolve IP launched in 2007, Zoblin and Gallagher played a key role bringing it to market at a time when Evolve IP had not yet signed with a national TSD. Common Sense and Zoblin's Cory Communications signed individual agreements Evolve IP, but negotiated to count their revenue bucket as one. Cory and Common Sense frequently teamed together on accounts, including the Philadelphia Racetrack and America's Most Wanted.

Another company Gallagher made a bet on was NetCarrier. Its channel leader, Bruce Wirt, was trying to build a footprint in Philadelphia, competing against much larger providers like Paetec and XO.

Gallagher said he would give Wirt and NetCarrier a chance, as long as he could closely shadow the vendor to make sure it was meeting customer expectations.

Wirt said Gallagher highly valued the customer experience. However, prioritizing the client didn't mean treating the supplier badly.

"He wasn't the kind of agent that would just scream and beat you over the head when something went wrong. He would dig in and really try to understand both sides of the story," Wirt told Channel Futures. "We all know that technology can fail. And it's about what you do in those critical moments when it fails."


Serving the Customer

Don Hollingsworth, managing partner at GO Network Solutions, credits Gallagher for helping him start the agency.

Gallagher showed Hollingsworth the ropes of launching and running a tech advisor business. Moreover, he imparted his philosophy of customer service. Hollingsworth said he doesn't consider Gallagher a salesman, but rather a "connector."

"Your whole entry into these people shouldn't be about selling the telecom and saving the money," Hollingsworth said. "It should be about helping making their jobs easier, which will lead to making their company, better making them better, and saving them money.

Gallagher gained a reputation for focusing on long-term relationships. Michelle said her father encouraged the team to focus first on existing customers before moving on to landing the next account.

That bucked a stereotype of agents who sold a solution to a customer and then simply collected the residual commission without doing any post-sales services.

"There are so many people that just signed somebody up, and then they're moving on to the next," Zoblin said. "We didn't build our business like that."

Coben said Gallagher "never chased the short money."

"The smart partners are in it for the long money. The long money is the building of your residual compensation, not chasing spiffs and incentives. His customer relationships and his subagent relationships were built on trust and longevity. I always remember in my dealings with John that the golden rule was, if it was good for the customer, it was good for Evolve IP and Common Sense," Coben said.

But Gallagher's fanaticism for the customer needed limits. Michelle tells the story of a T1 installation that was put on hold due to a union strike. A distraught Gallagher called his customer to try to make him understand.

“My dad was just telling the customer how much he was working for him and how hard he was trying to get his T1 in with a strike going on, and the guy said, 'John, you gotta relax. It's just telecom. It's not life or death,'" Doerr said.

She said her father would say that same line to his daughters: "It's just telecom."

"You get so caught up. We care so much. He cared so much. We all wanted to do the best for our customers and that customer turned around and told him to relax; that’s the kind of relationships he had with his customers," she said.

A Channel Man

Gallagher's peers remember him as someone who took pride in being a member of the channel.

Henderson said Gallagher would always be willing to lend a comment for the stories she wrote about the industry.

Moreover, she frequently saw him at industry events like Channel Partners, attending education sessions with Zoblin to probe for best practices.


Doerr said her father highly valued mentorship and took pride in seeing people in his ecosystem succeed.

“He felt so strongly about all of his partners; he wanted to see them succeed," she said. "He was constantly thinking of ways he could help everybody around him."

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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