African Americans are ready for the illustrious ‘C-Suite’

by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer

Andrea Stanford knows Amber Farr, but does she know Charles Carrier?

Tracey McCants Lewis knows Jerome Jackson, but does she know Shannon Austin?

What’s guaranteed to come from the second-ever cohort of The Advanced Leadership Initiative’s Executive Leadership Academy is the “R” word—relationships.

As the group of 28 African Americans in the cohort were formally introduced at an icebreaker event held at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business on Jan. 24, TALI founding director and Highmark Health Senior Vice President of Community Affairs Evan Frazier noted he underestimated how many interpersonal relationships and connections the 25 members of the inaugural cohort created. And in the business world, relationship-building is everything.

“Wow, what a bond they’ve created,” Frazier said to the crowd of 150. “When we talk about creating a community, a network within the community, that gives people a sense a belonging.”

It’s a good bet the same type of bond will be created with Stanford, Farr, Carrier, Lewis, Jackson, Austin and the other 22 members of the second cohort.

“I cannot tell you how amazing it is to be here looking at all of you. What a vision come true,” Frazier said.

The vision is to build a pipeline of African American executive leadership in the Pittsburgh region. The Executive Leadership Academy is a seven-month development program, divided into eight, two-day sessions that include academic instruction on executive leadership, executive coaching for cohort members, and a professional sponsor for each cohort member. Professors at Carnegie Mellon University provide the academic instruction, and the development program is held at CMU. The second cohort is expected to complete the program in July.

“African Americans represent only one percent of executive leadership in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, and our goal is to significantly improve that number. That’s why we are very excited about the 28 individuals that have been added to the cohort,” Robert Young, managing director of TALI, said in a statement provided to the New Pittsburgh Courier. “Along with last year’s members, that brings the TALI cohort community to over 50 African American executives and mid-level managers.”

Could Stanford, the current assistant county manager for Allegheny County, become a future CEO? “Sure, why not?” she answered, in an exclusive interview with the Courier. “The statistics…are pretty staggering of the lack of high executive leadership roles that African Americans in our region are filling, so there are obvious deficits that need to be addressed. I think the TALI program is one step to fill those gaps.”

Farr, the director of One Northside, which aims to better the city’s 18 North Side neighborhoods, feels that the Executive Leadership Academy will give her a leg up with networking and a continuance of advancement in the field of philanthropy.

As new cohort members like Krista Smalls, Bryan Stout and Stephanie Herring looked on, Regina Scott, a member of the inaugural cohort, told the crowd how her involvement last year gave her the confidence she needed to realize that she, too, could one day be in executive leadership. And a few months after her completion of the Executive Leadership Academy in the summer of 2019, she moved closer to her goal by attaining the position of director of community programs and engagement for Gateway Health.

“Opportunities that are being created through this effort are unprecedented, which is a testament to the quality of the cohort, curriculum, and The Advanced Leadership Initiative,” said Greg Spencer, a founding board co-chair of TALI and president and CEO of Randall Industries. “Cohort members have already experienced advancement, and we are expecting no less from the 2020 cohort.”

Other cohort members include; Lincoln Acholonu, Carla Biaggi, Bobbi Britton Tucker, Richard Butler, Dr. Elizabeth Carter, Rhonda Curry, Jeff Davis, Audric Dodds, Leslie Britton Dozier, Nafis Hill, Ayana Ledford, Aaron Lockhart, Chinedu Okorafor, Maisha Sturdivant, LaToya Warren, Joe Washington, Tishekia Williams, Lucius Williams, and Nicole King Yohe.

“We want to make sure there are opportunities for growth and advancement for African Americans,” Frazier said, “so they don’t feel they have to go to Washington (D.C.) and Baltimore and Atlanta and Chicago; that they can grow here (in Pittsburgh) professionally.”

(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP ACADEMY-BOUND—Nicole King Yohe, Nafis Hill, Andrea Stanford, LaToya Warren, and Krista Smalls are among the 28 members of the Academy’s newest cohort. Photos by Brian Cook Sr.)

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