Promoting African American Executive Leadership In Pittsburgh Part 1

Lynne Hayes Freeland spoke with Evan Frazier, President and CEO of the Advanced Leadership Institute, Robert James of Highmark Health, and Andrea Stanford of BNY Mellon about an initiative to promote Black executive leadership in our region.

Video Transcript


LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: Hello and welcome to this edition of "The Lynne Hayes-Freeland Show." Well, I'll tell you what, I love being a part of something that you see grow, that you were-- I feel like I was a part of this initiative since the beginning. And in my own way, I guess I was. I certainly can't take any credit for it. But watching something grow from the beginning is exactly what we're talking about today. Three individuals who have been a part of something all along the way.

Evan Frazier, we'll start with Evan and introduce Evan first. Because I guess in many ways, Evan, this was your baby. And we're watching Evan now evolve. So Evan, we've always introduced as the Senior Vice President of Community Affairs with Highmark Health. And I guess this is the last time we get to introduce you that way. Because Evan's going to have a new title come March 1. But we'll come back, we'll circle back around to that.

And then you have two colleagues of yours that they bring their own stories to the table, Robert James and Andréa Stanford. Robert James is with Highmark Health. Andréa Stanford is with BNY Mellon. They have their own stories to tell. But I welcome you all to the show.

EVAN FRAZIER: Thank you. So good to be here with you, Lynne.

ROBERT JAMES: Thank you.

LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: And it's kind of like Evan, you are, I don't know, the godfather, the visionary, I don't know what to call you. But welcome back. And congratulations and now let's go back. Let's go back. You and a couple of other folks had this vision, this idea that you could make a difference in Pittsburgh and corporate Pittsburgh. And I'm sure that when you had this idea, a lot of people looked at you and said, oh yeah, good luck with that Evan. But you did. You had an idea. And it's become not only a reality, but an amazing reality.

EVAN FRAZIER: Thank you. No, it's been really an amazing journey that really you started with just a vision of how do we improve, make advancements in this region for African-American professionals and to really build a pipeline for Black executive leadership in our region. And while I may have had the initial vision for it, people like Greg Spencer, you know, our founding chair, our founding co-chair, other amazing people, Marsha Jones, Jerry MacCleary, the executive committee, advisory boards, I mean, there's just been an incredible wealth of people who really got behind this concept and idea to make it what it is today, including some amazing cohort members who became a part of it, took the risk to become a part of a program that we're putting together with Carnegie Mellon University. And they really helped to make this thing successful.

LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: And before I go to Robert and Andréa, give me an idea. When you were selling this idea to corporate Pittsburgh, to Carnegie Mellon, was it a hard sell? I mean, we all know that there was a need. But was it a hard sell?

EVAN FRAZIER: You know, it wasn't a hard sell. It was clearly people saw the need. I think that, you know, I put together a concept paper. It took about six months to socialize it. So that's with other African-American professionals, corporate folks, some foundation folks, really tried to get good feedback. So I had to, you know, take the initial idea, get the feedback, how do we improve it, use that to just make it better and better till we got to the point where like this could work.

And then once we-- I pitched it the Carnegie Mellon, the dean over there, Bob Dammon at the time who loved the idea, we started to work with his team. They have incredible folks in the executive education over there. And we built the Executive Leadership Academy, which is kind of our premier program.

And we started to evolve the program there. And TALI, the Advanced Leadership Initiative, finally over the last three years, as we continue to build cohorts, received some amazing support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation who just made a million commitment back in December. Then we had Highmark Health who just committed a million and a half to allow us to be able to build and take it from an initiative, which is really a strong program, to an institute that will have a long-standing impact for our region and then also, ultimately, nationally we expect to have that impact.

So, yes, it was tough. It was pushing a boat up the hill for a little while because you have to get people to believe that this kind of concept can work. But once it started rolling, people started to see the benefit. And I'm just so pleased that people are starting to see impact for themselves, but also for the community.

LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: So Robert, you were in the first class of cohorts.


LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: Was it a tough sell for you? I mean, you're kind of rolling along in this career. You're doing-- you're doing OK for yourself here. What made you think, OK, I'm going to take, I'm going to take this gamble?

ROBERT JAMES: I'd say a few things. I was aware that Evan was putting together this program. And I had had an experience with Evan where I knew that if he was putting it together that it was going to be world class. And so as I learned more and I saw the application that there was an opportunity to apply, I was at the time I was Supplier Diversity Program Manager.

And I went ahead and applied. I had sponsorship within my company, which I was pleased to get. And I was pleased to learn that I was accepted. And it wasn't long before I had been my company about two to three years at that time, wasn't long before I was elevated to a director role in supplier diversity when I was going through the actual class.

And so I was in the inaugural class. And I loved it it. It was an experience, I think of all the leadership programs, I've probably been in at least seven leadership programs in different cities. And this is by far the best leadership program that I've gone through. I think that the collaboration with Carnegie Mellon, the vision is a very focused vision that Evan had to have a stronger African-American, corporate presence of African-Americans in corporate Pittsburgh.

And so that was the mission. And I'd say that the curriculum was focused on executives like me to give us a skill set, capabilities, a sense of what it would be like to be a C-suite executive. And it was something that I found to be very fruitful for me. And it wasn't long before I was elevated to the C-suite in my company.

So I'm now Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Highmark Health. And when you become a C-suite, you learn quickly that you hit the ground running. And so you want to have that skill set. And I really do attribute the Executive Leadership Academy that Evan and TALI put together as something that is in my toolbox of skills that I'm able to use in my new position.

LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: We have to take a commercial break. And Andréa, I'm going to save you for the other side of the break because when we talk about Pittsburgh and C-suite and women, in particular women of color, that's a whole other conversation. We need a little more time than we can fit in before the commercial break so we're going to do that in just a minute when "The Lynne Hayes-Freeland Show" continues. So don't go away.