Michael Duffy found a way to have an impact on the urban environment through affordable housing.

The 38-year-old is head of the project finance group at McCormack Baron Salazar, one of the nation’s largest and most influential developers.

“I’m a navy blue blazer-type finance person, but I truly believe in the double bottom line of McCormack Baron Salazar–style real estate development,” he says.

Duffy got his start while earning dual master’s degrees in city planning and public policy at The Ohio State University in 2000. Interested in shaping America’s cities, he was headed toward a possible career working for a mayor or a government agency when an internship at the Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing introduced him to the affordable housing industry.

“Here’s a way to have direct, immediate impact,” Duffy thought. “We’re actually creating something.” He embraced learning about low-income housing tax credits and real estate finance, becoming known as the organization’s first intern to ever skip spring break to work.

Following graduation, Duffy returned home to Missouri but stayed in the field, working for the St. Louis Equity Fund for several years before joining McCormack Baron Salazar as a finance manager in 2005. He’s quickly moved up the ranks to vice president in 2008 and then senior vice president in 2011.

Under his leadership, the project finance group has closed more than three dozen transactions, totaling more than $1 billion in development costs and resulting in the construction of more than 3,500 apartment homes in mixed-income, mixed-use communities across the country.

“Mike has all of the characteristics that you need for success in this industry: He is bright, driven, and level-headed,” says Kevin McCormack, company president. “And he is passionate about the mission and has a great sense of humor, both of which are essential to keeping his team and our coworkers motivated.”

The work takes Duffy and his colleagues from the boardrooms of the nation’s biggest banks to the community centers of the neighborhoods that have suffered decades of disinvestment. “We get to operate in so many different environments,” he says. “The level of sophistication across all the different elements of our work is inspiring.”

Duffy is a frequent speaker at industry events. He and his wife have four children.