Michael T. Pugh
Michael T. Pugh

Michael T. Pugh was named CEO of the Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), one of the nation’s largest community development organizations, last year.

He brings to the role more than 30 years of banking experience, with a focus on expanding access to capital for underserved families, businesses, and communities. Pugh joins LISC after serving as president and CEO of Carver Bancorp, the nation’s largest publicly traded African-American-operated bank.

What’s at the top of your to-do list as you start the new year?

2023 was a year of tremendous growth and progress for LISC. We invested more than ever in both developers and entrepreneurs of color, and we launched an internship program for students at historically Black colleges and universities, where we offer community development mentorship and experience in an effort to address national disparities in internships.

What has been most impressive to me is that each and every person at LISC is committed to achieving racial equity and overcoming the structural barriers that prevent marginalized communities from crossing health, wealth, and opportunity gaps. They recognize that inequality is embedded in the very fabric of our society, enmeshed within each sector of our lives: housing, education, work, schools, child care, business, banking, etc. And they are committed to tackling all of these challenges in the spirit of creating a country where everyone has equal access to resources, a safe place to live, and the opportunity to thrive. I’m honored to have been witness to this work over the past few months, and I look forward to building upon it in the next year and the years to come.

In 2024, we will double down on our efforts and investments, particularly in the areas of affordable housing, small business lending, and workforce development. In all three of these sectors, we aim to ensure that individuals, especially those in underserved communities, have the resources, tools, and access to capital necessary to achieve their goals and support their families—whether that’s through owning or renting a home, maintaining a business, or transitioning into a new job. When these resources are available, we’re able to help support and sustain safe and healthy neighborhoods.

We’re also going to further expand into the green energy space and bring a sustainability lens to all of our work. We will also intensify our safety and justice work, which includes supporting community violence intervention programs in partnership with the Department of Justice and helping formerly incarcerated individuals reenter the workforce, a program I’m particularly moved by.

Share with us a meaningful experience that you had in your first few months at LISC.

Since joining LISC, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to see, firsthand, the impact our support has directly on individuals and their communities. I recently attended an event in Washington, D.C., celebrating our Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, which deploys small business loans to minority-owned and managed businesses. I had the chance to speak to small business owners from the community and hear about how they have been able to grow their businesses, support their families, and create jobs as a result of LISC’s investment.

Over the course of my career, one goal I’ve consistently worked toward is helping create an equal and level playing field in terms of access to capital. People in underserved communities have been excluded from the traditional banking system for decades. It’s so important to play even a small part in these entrepreneurs’ success, and I look forward to continued conversations and investments in people like the ones I met in D.C.

What changes will be coming to LISC’s affordable housing work?

We don’t anticipate changes as much as adjustments based on the shifting economic needs of the communities we work with. We’re focused on supporting underserved communities as they face ongoing challenges, including inflation, rising interest rates, and increased housing costs. We will continue to innovate solutions to address these issues. This includes prioritizing our climate

by financing sustainable, green

construction and rehabilitation, which makes for lower operating costs and

has been proven to boost health outcomes for residents and entire neighborhoods.

One of the ways we do this is by building and retrofitting affordable housing with an eye toward resident health, energy efficiency, and the resiliency that minimizes disruptions from climate-change impacts, and we plan to expand upon this work next year.

You rose from bank teller to bank president. What did you learn from being a bank teller, and how did that early job shape your career?

When I was a bank teller—back before the digital banking age—everyone would go to the brick-and-mortar banks. Every day, I had the unique opportunity to speak with members of my community, ask questions, and learn more about their lives and their needs.

I learned that what might be helpful for one person may not be helpful for the next person. Whether I realized it at that point or not, that’s when I discovered the importance of understanding communities in order to provide solutions that were specific to them and their needs.

Best advice that you’ve received:

If something matters, never give up.

What is one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m an excellent cook.

Favorite book:

“The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson

If you unexpectedly had the day off, where would we find you?

Someplace near water and/or trees.