Pecori Fioretti offers sage advice to Loyola grads

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Loyola University Chicago’s Quinlan School of Business Commencement ceremony was held at the Gentile Arena on May 10, 2018. Nicki Pecori Fioretti (MBA ’96), the director of community affairs at the Illinois Housing Development Authority, delivered the keynote address, and Demitra A. Giannaras was the student speaker. (Photo: Heather Eidson)

 

When Nicki Pecori Fioretti graduated from Loyola University with an MBA in finance in 1996, she never dreamed she’d be returning in triumph two decades later. But return she did, as the director of community affairs for the Illinois Housing Development Authority, to deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2018 at Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business.

Her commencement address and biography follow:

COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS

Good Morning Loyola University Quinlan School of Business graduates!

Doesn’t that sound nice? “Loyola University Quinlan School of Business Graduate”. Let that roll through your mind and savor it for a moment, and remember how hard you worked to get here.

I am so proud of you – this is just the beginning of a world of wonderful opportunities.

Before I start any project, like preparing these remarks, I try to go to the core of what I’m trying to communicate. So I started by googling “what does it mean to be a jesuit?” With Pope Francis, now the world’s most famous Jesuit, in the Vatican, there is plenty of content available. And here we are some 480 years into Jesuit history and I propose that the founding Jesuit principles are as relevant, if not more so, today than they were in the 1500’s: to promote social justice, foster dialogue between cultures and religions and serve wherever the need is the greatest. We have an important mission to uphold.

So what would I tell myself if I were sitting out there with you today, on what I’ve learned so far as a professional – and as a person:

Have an enormous appetite for life. The days, the weeks, the years go so fast, savor them – you have gained valuable tools for your toolbox of life here at Loyola – make the most of them.

Strive to always be a civil person – even when faced with incivility – that is the true test.

Work diligently.

I’ve had a number of jobs and have learned from each of them. Presently, I am the Director of Community Affairs at the Illinois Housing Development Authority, or IHDA for short.

Think of IHDA as a bank with a mission. I like to say we engage in the business of compassionate capitalism. “Professor Tassos Malliaris instilled in me an appreciation for the economic impact and importance of monetary policy and asset pricing, and in my field, the impact of interest rates on the mortgage market and investments is critical to understand”.

At Loyola I developed an interest in macro economics – particularly how various economic factors impact people lives and their communities. Why is this important to me? Because I see great disparities in the communities around us and a need for much work to be done. And driven largely by Professor Mary Ann McGrath, I developed an appreciation for how important the variable “marketing” plays in the business equation – to understand the importance of communicating one’s objective and understanding consumer behavior has been critical to any success I have achieved.

And understanding data helps drive the missions we tackle.

For example, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, over 50% of American renters are cost-burdened (meaning they pay 30% or more of income towards housing). These households have little money left to cover other basic necessities. They spend 53% less on food, healthcare and transportation. In searching for housing they can afford, families may live in inadequate housing, exposing children to serious health and safety hazards that can undermine their current and future well being.

And did you know, the number one environmental illness of children is caused primarily by lead-based paint in homes? About 75% of homes built before 1978 contain some lead-based paint. I had the pleasure last year to cross paths with Professor Anita Weinberg from the Civitas Child Law Center at Loyola’s Law School. She and her students worked to pass Illinois’ first prevention-focused legislation to protect against lead poisoning. And at IHDA we have the experience to create a program to address lead-remediation in these homes. I am hopeful we will be working on a program this year, putting people to work and making homes safer for our children.

Inadequate housing can lead to a host of future problems. Poor health, poor test scores, overall poorer quality of life. As you can see, I am a little passionate about our work.

These economic disparities and lack of opportunities shouldn’t be so prevalent in our nation today – but they are. And I am proud to work in an industry trying to do something about it. I do believe business and social justice can play an interdependent role in our society.

As you go through your work life, I’ve heard it’s good to be a “cheerful warrior” – and although I suppose that may be true, I posit that it is at times constructive to be a “respectful rebel”.

Example – there was a development project I was working on that would have created hundreds of housing units, hundreds of jobs and generated tax revenue at the height of the recession. A few of my colleagues were against the project and their support was needed to get the loan committee approvals necessary to move forward. As I was trying to decide whether to just let it die, or persevere, I decided to consult with one of my mentors. Flash forward, with their words of support, I persevered, the development closed and I was gratified that we were able to pull together multiple sources of financing to repurpose a vacant and dangerous building into a community asset. Moral of the story – don’t be afraid to raise your voice if you think your position is just, but do your homework first.

There will be trying times. Persevere. Keep a good attitude.

Be confident. Maintain your humility and decency.

Seek out mentors. At each stage of your life, have a mentor and BE a mentor. This is your responsibility and your blessing. And maintain a good circle of friends.

Follow your heart. But take your brain with you.

Be a life-long student. Never stop reading or learning. And not just social media posts. Read BOOKS. And ARTICLES. On topics that are outside your expertise. It makes you a well-rounded person able to carry on conversations with other professionals you’ll meet.

Force yourself to do things that make you uncomfortable. That’s how you GROW.

You are going to fall down. It’s ok. When you do, get back up.

Volunteer for something that resonates with you. Maybe it’s a children’s charity, or a cancer foundation. So many causes need volunteers. You will meet people. Maybe find your next job. You may rise from volunteer to board member. You’ll meet board members from other fields. You never know where that may lead.

Maybe you feel passionate about an ISSUE. Volunteer for a candidate for public office who is aligned with your issue. And VOTE. Voter turn-out is dismally low. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Your voice matters. Don’t think for a moment that is doesn’t.

Our communities need educated, ethical people like yourself— be hard working business people with integrity, and courage and compassion.

The author, philosopher, theologian Dr. Howard Thurman said “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.”

Ask yourself, What excites you? I love to write. And read. About issues that are important to me. I love to travel. I can feel my pulse pick up when I think the right words have come together, or when I have a trip on the calendar. What makes your pulse pick up?

And I suppose I will end with this quote. From one of the great writers of all time, William Shakespeare, who wrote “And this above all, to thine own self be true”. When you look in the mirror, always respect that person looking back at you. And have fun.

Congratulations Loyola University Quinlan School of Business Graduates. It is up to you to carry the torch for the next generations. And carry it as a cheerful warrior. And when appropriate, as the respectful rebel.

Thank you.

BIOGRAPHY

Nicki Pecori Fioretti (MBA ‘96) works tirelessly in the field of community development to help people improve their lives, find affordable housing, and access much-needed resources. At the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA), where she has worked since 1995, she is the director of community affairs. In that role, her responsibilities include overseeing several funding programs for community revitalization and redevelopment, housing counseling, financial literacy, and foreclosure prevention—from program design to implementation and administration.

At IHDA, Pecori Fioretti works with staff across departments and with external resources to help design program initiatives to benefit local communities. One of her many accomplishments there included coordinating a community empowerment track for an IHDA statewide conference that brought national and statewide perspectives to and provided information about redevelopment and revitalization strategies. She is a frequent speaker at housing forums, and she serves as a liaison to finance affordable housing alternatives statewide while simultaneously balancing the fiduciary responsibilities of a financial institution.

Prior to her current role at IHDA, Pecori Fioretti served as director of finance and development. In that function, she oversaw programmatic research related to finance and debt issuance specifically in the areas of risk, ratings, and collateral. She has led financing teams responsible for coordinating the issuance of IHDA capital market products from conceptual stage to closing, totaling over $1 billion.

In her work in the finance department, she oversaw the creation of over 600 jobs and 300 units of rental housing near work and transportation. Another key success in that role involved her conceptualizing, marketing, and moderating a multi-sector Preservation Initiative Roundtable to raise awareness about a $184 million federal financing resource with narrow deadlines. Over 80 professionals participated and gained additional knowledge about IHDA and federal programs.

Pecori Fioretti has served on the board of advisors for the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago since 2007. She is also an inaugural school board member at the Hope Institute Learning Academy and past chair of the Hope School Foundation Board of Trustees, which supports the Hope Institute for Children and Families in providing education, residential, and health care services to children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities throughout the Midwest.

She also served on the boards of Women in Public Finance, the Women’s Leadership Council, Loyola, Chicago Area Bradley University (alumni board), and the Gold Coast Neighbors Association. She is a member of Necessities 100 of the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation and previously served as a volunteer program coordinator for the Starlight Children’s Foundation at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Pecori Fioretti earned her MBA in finance at Loyola and her BS, cum laude, in mass communications at Bradley University.

 

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