Profile: John Sassaris takes reigns as new IFF Board Chair February 7, 2017

John Sassaris is Group President for Commercial Banking at MB Financial Bank. He is responsible for managing a group of teams that focus on building relationships with middle-market and privately held companies in the Midwest as well as nonprofit organizations in the Chicagoland area. He has served on IFF’s Board of Directors since 2013 and began his term as Board Chair in January 2017.

You’ve been with MB Financial for almost 25 years now. What can you tell us about how your role has grown and evolved over the years?

Yes, it will be 25 years in August, which is a little unique in the banking industry. However, I joined a small community bank that has grown into a nearly $20 billion bank, and with that growth came tremendous opportunity. To give you some context, I began my career as a teller working my way through school, and now am a Group President in Commercial Banking, leading three mid-market focused divisions. It’s a fun story, but really speaks to the culture we have built at MB, where we look to empower our employees who are looking to grow and display the initiative to do so.

You have managed MB Financial’s Leadership Development Program. What’s one piece of advice you always give to the bankers you mentor?

Find your purpose and make sure your “why” aligns with ours. Inspired, passionate employees make all the difference and are really the key to every successful organization. Therefore, you need to make sure this is the right environment for you to be successful. And I remind them that homework doesn’t end just because you are out of school, so read, read, read!

Like IFF, you work with New Market Tax Credits. What are some examples of high-impact projects you’ve been able to help finance with NMTCs?

We helped Peter Testa complete his vision for a new facility in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. This was an interesting project because we not only used NMTCs but also utilized a temporary provision in the tax code that allowed us to issue a “recovery zone” tax-exempt bond, which was one of the first, if not the first, recovery zone bonds issued in the United States. As a result of these economic development tools, Testa Produce relocated to a state-of-the-art, LEED Platinum certified distribution facility. Not only did it change the landscape of the neighborhood, but it also created 150+ jobs in an economically depressed area of the city.

We are currently working on a couple of interesting NMTC transactions – one for a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) and another for a local charter school. Both are strong projects that I would deem transformative in nature. Access to quality health care and access to quality schools are two of the pillars of social and economic development.

How do you view the trajectory for the kind of lending IFF supports? Are financial tools/services on the right path for supporting the unique needs of smaller nonprofits?

I think the demand for IFF’s vast services will only continue to grow across the markets we serve. Traditional areas of funding for all nonprofits are becoming more challenging, and philanthropic dollars are in high demand across the entire sector, so smaller nonprofits will continue to have a need. Innovative tools like Social Impact Bonds and P3 partnerships will continue to flourish and provide another vehicle for IFF to serve this important population. I think it’s key that IFF is already active in this dialogue and has executed transactions in this space.

You’re a native Chicagoan, and you know winters here are tough. What activities help you cope with “winter madness”?

It’s interesting – when I was younger, I didn’t really think of it as something that I had to get through. It was just that really long season before the one week of spring we get to enjoy. And now, my wife and I have three kids (12, 9 and 3 years old), so their activities keep us pretty busy no matter the weather. But look at it this way, for the first time in a long, long time, winter should feel like a blur now that spring training is around the corner for our World Champion Cubs!

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