John Bissell is the President & CEO of Greylock Federal Credit Union, a sponsor of WAM Theatre since our second season in 2011. A Berkshire native, he holds his Bachelor’s Degree from Amherst College, is earning his M.B.A. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is also a graduate of the New England School for Financial Studies program at Babson College. He has served on the board of The Colonial Theatre, 1Berkshire Foundation, and Berkshire United Way, where he was the Chairman. The founder of Pittsfield Promise, an early literacy initiative, John was named by Berkshire Magazine as one of “25 Most Dedicated, Most Creative, Most Influential” people in the county in 2015. He received the Esther Quinn Award in Recognition of Exemplary Community Service from the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce in 2014, the Nancy Kaufman Service Award from Berkshire Children and Families in 2013, and the Robert K. Agar Volunteerism Award from Berkshire United Way in 2012. John joined Greylock Federal in 2003 and was named President and CEO in 2015.
WAM Theatre: You brought Greylock Federal Credit Union on board as a sponsor very early in WAM’s evolution. What did you see in us then that made us a natural fit for sponsorship?
John Bissell: My impressions of WAM are closely connected to my great feelings about Kristen van Ginhoven. I first learned about WAM from her and I immediately heard the passion she brings to the organization and its mission. I got the strong sense that here was a person with a big vision. It really impressed me that Kristen was willing take on that big of a vision with that small of a footprint. That’s how I think of WAM, a small theatre with a big vision.
Kristen’s enthusiasm and her feminism are practical and positive, and that fits with our DNA as well. She partners very naturally with folks, she prefers to collaborate – as do we at Greylock – and I think that has allowed WAM’s impact to be much greater. It is very important for arts leaders to connect with business leaders, and Kristen has plugged us into a global conversation about the economic and incalculable social value of women’s work.
WAM: Why WAM Theatre when there are many larger and more venerable cultural groups in our region?
John: We are blessed to have so many strong cultural offerings in Berkshire County, many of which are big, world class organizations, but WAM brings an entrepreneurial energy to our region that is really needed to keep things fresh and inspiring, to keep us from going stale or growing complacent.
WAM: You brought us together with Girls Inc for what has been a very successful three year collaboration and the genesis of our growing education program. How did that come about?
John: Greylock has collaborated with Girls Inc. for many years and I knew that they are always looking to amplify their impact. They are unique in the County because they have this successful national Girls Inc. program embedded in the Gladys Brigham Center, a very well run local non-profit, a really resilient organization that has been doing great work for many, many years. And they have a stage! It was obviously the perfect fit.
Kristen’s vision to empower women and girls using theatre as philanthropy is very important to me as the father of two daughters, and I think it hit Berkshire County just when the community really needed it and was ready to hear it. Greylock had a female CEO when I first got us involved. We are always looking to foster and promote all talent, but female talent in specific because women are still vastly underrepresented in the Financial Services industry.
WAM: What would you like to see WAM accomplish in the future?
John: I would love to see WAM continue to expand its message about empowering women and girls. Because of your larger mission, you are succeeding with the people who love theatre and with the people who support education and women’s empowerment. You’ve been able to open up conversations on sensitive topics and have brought important issues to prominence that weren’t immediately recognized. I think the success of your production of Emilie… in 2013 created real momentum and helped you break through and catch the attention of a much larger crowd. With the passion and talent behind WAM, this momentum will only keep growing.
Greylock Federal Credit Union loves being part of the “WAMily” because we really do think of all of our 245 employees and 76,000 members, as well as all the organizations we sponsor, as our family.