Over three decades, Pam Iorio has earned a reputation as a plain-spoken, unflinching executive who can build up an organization or clean up a mess.
As Hillsborough County supervisor of elections, she helped institute statewide reforms after Florida's voting debacle in 2000. As mayor of Tampa, she tripled City Hall's reserves. As interim head of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, she cleaned house after a personnel and financial controversy.
Now Iorio, 54, will take over yet another organization coming through a rough patch — but on a much bigger stage. On March 31, she starts as the new president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
"This is important work," Iorio said Friday of her hiring to replace Charles Pierson, who is resigning after less than two years in the job and a scathing federal audit. "It's a mission I believe in. It gives me an opportunity to serve, so I'm very excited."
As mayor from 2003 to 2011, Iorio launched a program that gave employees 90 minutes a week to serve as mentors through Big Brothers Big Sisters and the school district. She recalled the principal of West Tampa Elementary telling her that pupils' reading scores rose after the mentoring.
"I saw firsthand how it made a difference," said Iorio, who wrote a book, Straightforward: Ways to Live and Lead, after leaving City Hall.
While the national organization is based in Irving, Tex., near Dallas, Iorio plans to commute to the new job.
"I'm not moving out of Tampa," she said. "Of course not."
Iorio is married to Mark Woodard, who is Pinellas County's sole assistant county administrator and right-hand man to County Administrator Robert LaSala. They have two children, Caitlin, 25, and Graham, 24, who live in Tampa.
"She'll be catching a flight first thing every Monday morning and flying back to Tampa on Thursday evenings," Woodard said. "Tampa is our home and it will always be our home. She has this great opportunity, so she'll do it as a commuter. It'll probably involve traveling all over the U.S. in this new role. We're going to spend as much time together as we possibly can."
Her new job will not affect his, they said.
"I like what I do," Woodard said. "I feel like I'm still adding a lot of value and I plan to stay."
Iorio said her contract with Big Brothers Big Sisters has not been finalized, and she couldn't say what she will be paid. Pierson's salary is $357,500, and his predecessor made $365,000 annually.
"I don't think they could have found a better person," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who succeeded Iorio. "Clearly, she is a top-notch manager. She proved it as mayor."
Pierson has led Big Brothers Big Sisters of America since June 2012. Before that, he spent nearly 10 years atop the Bigs' affiliate for Dallas, Houston and west central Texas. His departure follows a critical U.S. Department of Justice audit in June. Auditors concluded that Big Brothers Big Sisters had mishandled nearly $23.2 million in federal grants. Problems included not safeguarding grant funds, inadequately monitoring consultants and charging "unsupported and unallowable expenditures to the grant."
Iorio said the organization has ordered a forensic audit and changed its policies, procedures and accounting. She expected her main charge would be to grow the organization, which has 338 affiliates and works with nearly 600,000 children.
"A great deal of good has come from all of that, and I think it'll be a stronger organization because of it," she said. "I think they've had good leadership, and I'm just to build on that and to help grow the organization and improve it as you would any organization you would take the helm of. I think this one is on a good track."
But if more work is needed to "right the ship," Buckhorn said Iorio is the leader to do it.
"Knowing her for almost 30 years, her ethical compass is always straight north," he said. "If there are ethical issues in the organization, she will clean that up within six months."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.