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Catching up with former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, now leading Big Brothers Big Sisters

TAMPA — When Pam Iorio made the switch from mayor to CEO, there was definitely a learning curve.

Up until 2014, Iorio had spent the majority of her life in local politics. She served two terms as mayor of Tampa from 2003 to 2011. Prior to that, she was Hillsborough County's supervisor of elections. Iorio was elected to the Hills­borough County Commission at just 26.

Now, at 56, she's the president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

Iorio was brought in to do what she had a proven track record of doing: cleaning up a mess.

In the past two years, she has helped Big Brothers Big Sisters of America get back on track from financial woes and has a steady trajectory of growth for its future. After just a year on the job, she was able to sway the organization's board to move its corporate headquarters in 2015 to Tampa Bay from Dallas. It helps that Liz Smith, CEO of Tampa-based Bloomin' Brands restaurants, is the chairman of the board for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

"I could never separate from Tampa. This is my home," Iorio said.

On Wednesday, Iorio joined the local Big Brothers Big Sisters Tampa Bay affiliate to launch a new work mentoring program with the Nielsen Co. Twenty-three students from A.P. Leto High School in Tampa will be bused to the Nielsen campus once a month where they will get individual guidance from a mentor there.

"We see so much room for growth in this workplace model," Iorio said. "It exposes students to a workplace environment. And it helps us get more millennials involved, who are already so busy, when we can bring the mentoring to them at work."

Iorio sat down with the Tampa Bay Times last week to talk about Tampa, politics and the future.

What was the greatest challenge for you switching from public service work to becoming the CEO of a nonprofit?

When I was mayor, my day was filled with issues that needed to be dealt with — from economic development issues to neighborhood issues to public safety. It was great, and I loved the energy of it. But at Big Brothers Big Sisters, there's one common goal that drives everything we do. The job is multifaceted in that I am working with our affiliates, donors and on political issues, but it all comes down to helping at-risk youth through mentoring. It's the same mission every day and it's an important one. I work with people all across the country that are working toward that same goal. I still feel like I'm making a difference. In that way, the job is the same.

Would you ever consider running for mayor again? Or go back to government work?

I think it isn't wise to say no to things in life. All I can say is that right now, I have no plans to run.

What do you think about Bob Buckhorn possibly running for governor in 2018?

I think that is a logical next step for any mayor of Tampa. I went through that analysis myself. Tampa is a high-profile mayoral role and it is a logical next step to be governor after having that kind of executive experience.

As someone who travels around the country a lot, what do you think are Tampa Bay's biggest pitfalls, compared with other cities?

I firmly believe we live in the best place in the country. That's why I was able to move Big Brothers Big Sisters from Dallas to Tampa. I hope that's a great selling point for Tampa, that one of the nation's largest nonprofits is now based here. Everyone we hire loves it here, too, and are surprised by how nice it is here. But if we have one deficiency: It's public transportation. That was my stance when I was mayor and it hasn't changed.

What do you think of Tampa Bay and all the new development that has been proposed?

I think we are very fortunate that Jeff and Penny Vinik call Tampa home for two reasons. The first, of course, is because of his plans for redevelopment. He will totally transform the Channel District in Tampa. His investments will make a big difference. But the second is the Viniks' philanthropy contributions to Tampa Bay. It has raised the bar across the community. You know, I've been out of office for five years now and I couldn't be more pleased with the direction Tampa has gone and is going in. Tampa is my home and this really is a great place to be.

Tell me more about Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

We are a nonprofit group that works to help at-risk youth through mentoring. Whether that's a child whose parents are incarcerated or they need more parental guidance, we see amazing change happen through mentoring partnerships. We are about giving young people the help they need.

What is your involvement like in Tampa?

Tampa is its own affiliate of our organization. We have 309 affiliates across the country. There is always some confusion where people think I'm leading the local chapter, which is not true. I am leading the national organization. Our corporate offices just happen to be in Tampa. I attend events that our affiliates put on all over the country, including some in Tampa.

Do you have your own "little" (an at-risk child mentee) in Big Brothers Big Sisters of America?

You know, that's a great question. I don't, but I should. Hopefully I'll find the time soon.

Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

Catching up with former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, now leading Big Brothers Big Sisters 03/11/16 [Last modified: Friday, March 11, 2016 6:18pm]
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