2017 Distinguished Alumni Award

The outstanding accomplishments of Western Illinois University graduates James A. Leopardo, president of Leopardo Companies, Inc. of Hoffman Estates, and Michael J. Litwin, a founding member and senior executive vice president and chief credit and risk officer for NXT Capital, LLC of Chicago, were recognized Saturday, May 13 at Western's Spring 2017 Commencement Exercises in Western Hall. Litwin was recognized at the 9 a.m. ceremony, while Leopardo was recognized at the 1 p.m. ceremony.

The Distinguished Alumni Award, given since 1973, recognizes alumni who have brought credit to the University and themselves through exceptional professional accomplishments, meritorious service to ensure the continued excellence of WIU and through service to their communities at the national, state or local levels.

Jim Leopardo, a 1977 construction engineering graduate, started Leopardo Construction, Inc. after graduating from Western. Under his leadership, Leopardo Industries has grown into one of the nation's largest 300 contractors, with more than 400 employees and 400 projects built annually. He is responsible for the overall business strategy and standards that affect the company's two offices, its employees and job sites, service offerings and specialty markets, including interiors, health care, retail, municipal, recreation, office, industrial, K-12 and higher education and hospitality, among others.

In recognition of his industry pioneering, Leopardo was inducted into Midwest Real Estate News' first ever Commercial Real Estate Hall of Fame in 2010, and he was included on the Crain's Chicago Business 2015 list of Who's Who in Chicago. He also received the Entrepreneur of the Year award from Ernst and Young in 1990 and has twice been a featured speaker at Harvard Business School's Annual Entrepreneurship Conference.

Leopardo has employed numerous WIU alumni over the years and provides internship experiences for Western students. He is an emeritus member of the Engineering Technology Advisory Board and frequently attends WIU alumni events.

In his community, Leopardo has served on the board at the Foglia YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, and received the Volunteer of the Year and Family of the Year awards. He also served on the board at JFK Health World, a non-profit children's health education museum. An alumni member of the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), he served as the organization’s Chicago chapter chair, chapter treasurer, day chair, education and membership chair. Every year, the Leopardo Charitable Foundation assists dozens of charities, including the Greater Chicago Food Depository, American Heart Association, USO of Illinois, City of Hope, Ronald McDonald House, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Special Olympics, among others.

Leopardo is a member of Safari Club International, FMI Executives/Presidents Peer Group and is a board member of James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate Wisconsin School of Business.

Mike Litwin, a 1970 management graduate, recently retired after a 46-year career. During the course of his career, he served in many executive positions in the commercial finance industry, most recently as the founding member and senior executive vice president and chief credit and risk officer for NXT Capital, LLC, responsible for the company's credit and risk management activities. Prior to that, Litwin served for seven years in a similar position at Merrill Lynch's commercial finance subsidiary Merrill Lynch Capital, where he was a founding member. Litwin spent 30 years at Heller Financial in a number of senior roles, including executive vice president, chief credit and risk officer, chair of the Credit and Credit Policy Committees and assistant general counsel. While at Heller, he spent six years in its legal department and also managed most of the company's lending and investment activities.

Litwin was the first WIU College of Business and Technology (CBT) Executive in Residence, served on the the CBT Advisory Board and currently servces on the President's National Advisory Council. He was named the CBT Distinguished Alumnus in 1994, and Litwin has also endowed the Michael J. Litwin Scholarship at Western.

In his community, Litwin served on the Board of the Commercial Finance Association and was the first non-banker elected to the Board of the Risk Management Association. In addition, he was responsible for the charitable activities Merrill and Heller.

Litwin and his wife, Karen, now split their time between Naples, Florida, where they're involved in numerous activities, and their homes in Chicago and New Buffalo, MI, spending time with their children and two grandsons.

Litwin earned his juris doctorate from John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

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