Evan Frazier recalls the days years ago here in Pittsburgh where there was “at least one or two” African Americans in either a CEO or other C-Suite Level corporate position at many of the city’s top public companies.
Victor Roque was the president of Duquesne Light, Aaron Walton was the senior vice president at Highmark Health, just to name a few.
But these days? Naming a high-ranking Black executive here for Frazier was like pulling teeth.
Besides Cain Hayes, who was recently named the new CEO of Gateway Health, Frazier couldn’t think of anyone else.
“I was scratching my head,” Frazier said.
To him, that’s a problem.
He’s decided to do something about it.
The Advanced Leadership Initiative began its conception in the summer of 2016, as Frazier, the senior vice president, community affairs for Highmark Health, had his pen and pad handy, figuring out how to make his idea a reality. He spoke with numerous African American professionals across the city, tweaked some things, got some sponsors and foundations on board, and by the summer of 2017, Frazier shared his vision at the Corporate Equity and Inclusion Roundtable conference, led by Black Political Empowerment Project President Tim Stevens.
The POISE Foundation soon became the Advanced Leadership Initiative’s fiscal sponsor, and Frazier’s idea became reality—to build a pipeline of African American executives who could become CEOs or attain C-Suite Level positions at corporations in the Pittsburgh region.
In May 2018, the Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI) began soliciting applications for its inaugural Executive Leadership Academy, where local Black professionals would undergo a series of sessions designed to prepare them for top-level positions within a company.
The response was “overwhelming,” Frazier said. Nearly 60 African American applicants wanted to be part of the Academy. Frazier, along with newly-minted ALI managing director Robert A. Young, whittled the field to 24, two-thirds of which were women. They, along with sponsors, funders, the ALI advisory board, and other key players will be at the Academy’s kickoff event, entitled “Perspectives,” from 5 to 7 p.m., Jan. 25, at the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business, 4765 Forbes Ave.
CMU isn’t just hosting this event—it’s a major component of the Academy as a whole. Being associated with a business school that’s highly-rated and highly-recognized across the country was critical to the overall strategy of the ALI’s Academy.
“It was clear that if we (partnered) with CMU, that would be particularly interesting for folks,” Frazier told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Jan. 18.
“Bob Dammon, the dean of the Tepper School of Business at CMU, said this is a unique program not only for Pittsburgh, but a unique program for the nation,” added Young. “How it’s accessible to them (African Americans), uniquely tailored for them and uniquely tailored to the particular challenges that they face in their career.”
The Academy is composed of eight, two-day sessions totaling more than 120 hours of instruction from renowned academic and industry experts. There will be executive coaches who will individualize the content for each participant, ensuring immediate application. An integrated sponsorship program will pair each participant with an industry-aligned sponsor for collaboration throughout the Academy.
“To get into the C-Level ranks, you can’t do that on your own merits. Someone has to pull you in, someone has to sponsor you into that circle,” Frazier said. “We can do all the education you want, but the reality is, unless you get a sponsor, you won’t break through that level, and that’s part of our challenge in Pittsburgh—we don’t have people (African Americans) breaking through that top level,” advocating for them in some capacity, Frazier said.
Following the “Perspectives” kickoff event on Jan. 25, “Defining Your Leadership Ability” will be the theme of the Jan. 26 session. The Academy picks up again in late February, with sessions on strategic leadership and highlighting one’s personal strengths. Other topics in the following months include building networks of influence, dealing with stereotypes and bias, getting the most out of diverse teams, financial decision-making and ethical leadership.
The final session is July 26, and all who successfully complete the Academy will receive a certificate from the CMU Tepper School of Business.
The program answers the question, “How do we help people (African Americans) to advance within these organizations? Because it’s very difficult to move forward in these corporation structures sometimes,” Frazier said.
Also, according to Frazier, there are “a lot of talented people who come to Pittsburgh” and ask, “Where are the peers? There’s not really a peer network (here), so this (Academy) creates a peer network…you’re openly connected with the people who are in similar types of roles across the region that they may not have had the opportunity to meet.”
The plan is to have 20-25 African Americans in the Academy each year. For the inaugural Academy beginning Jan. 25, 20 of the 24 total participants are representing the corporate sector, three participants represent nonprofit organizations, and one person represents the government sector. All of them are current executives or mid-level managers who’ve had at least 10 years of overall work experience.
“There’s a lot of great interest out there, the people are excited, they see how they can personally benefit from the program,” Young said. “There is talent here, and people are looking for a way to invest in their future,” adding, “They see the barriers, they’re living it and they see this (Academy) as that opportunity to break through.”
There is a $10,000 fee for each member to take part in the Academy. Frazier said those members from the corporate sector had the fee paid by the member’s employer, which shows that the employer is invested in their employee’s upward trajectory. Those coming from other sectors may have had some of the $10,000 fee covered by participating foundations.
Frazier told the Courier that there’s already an interest in the Executive Leadership Academy to be held in 2020. He hopes the interest continues for the next decade, as his goal is to train at least 250 Black professionals with the skills necessary to become a top-level executive.
“We do have talent here,” Frazier said about African Americans in Pittsburgh. “We just have to invest in our talent.”
(For more information on the Advanced Leadership Initiative, visit advancedleadershipinitiative.org or call 412-926-1600.)
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