Donna Meredith interviews Errol Pierre, Author of “The Way Up: Climbing the Corporate Mountain as a Professional of Color” (Wiley, 2022)

Errol Pierre

Errol Pierre is the author of “The Way Up: Climbing the Corporate Mountain as a Professional of Color” (Wiley, 2022). He is currently the Senior Vice President of State Programs at Healthfirst Inc., the largest not-for-profit health plan in New York. He manages their Medicaid and Long-Term Care business unit and close to 500 people and operations at more than 24 community offices across New York City, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley region. Although he is SVP at Healthfirst, he wrote this book independently of the not-for-profit he works for and the views expressed in it are his own.

Pierre was previously COO at Empire BlueCross BlueShield. He is an in-demand speaker on leadership, diversity, and healthcare and has addressed hundreds of audiences including the National Urban League for Young Professionals, 100 Black Men, and Fordham University.

Donna Meredith

DM: Writing any book is a big undertaking that takes many months if not years. How long did you work on this book? What motivated or inspired you to write this particular story?

EP: I agree. For that very reason, I only recommend writing a book when you have the passion inside of your bones to tell your story because the effort is immense, and the journey is unpredictable. I had the concept for The Way Up for several years and never had the quiet place, space, or time to sit down with my thoughts and get them on paper. They ended up being a bunch of streams of consciousness written down in my iPhone notes app. Then the pandemic hit. After my first weekend during quarantine, I put pen to paper and began writing the book officially. By October 2020 I had enough of a semblance of a book to begin sharing it with others. It took me until April 2021 to finish the first official draft of the entire book, with lots of help along the way.

The motivation was twofold. I have read so many leadership books and none of them spoke to me as an underrepresented employee in corporate America. The lessons made sense, but I was yearning for more nuance and texture to the lessons specifically as someone who might have immigrant parents, be an immigrant themselves, be a person of color, or a female. I found this particularly lacking in leadership books on authenticity. As an employee of color, it was not being myself that seemed to provide the best advantages in moving up the corporate ranks. A book that depicted the opposite was fascinating. I wanted to share my side of the story.  Secondly, we have landed on this notion that climbing up in corporate America is akin to climbing a ladder. However, there is enough research and anecdotal evidence that shows that is not the case for all employees. The book includes eleven interviews from executives of color who share how their success in corporate America was more like climbing a mountain that sometimes required lateral moves to make it to the top. It’s important to provide those details and stories to the next generation of corporate mountain climbers so they know what they are in for and how to prepare.

DM: What research was required for the writing of this story?

EP: There was plenty of research! I love doing research. It is like solving a puzzle without knowing the final picture you’ll see at the end.  The Way Up has ninety-seven references to journal articles, research papers, news articles, and other forms of information to re-emphasize and corroborate the lessons from the book and further enhance the key findings from the executive interviews.

DM: What’s the most important takeaway readers should get from your book?

EP: A couple of things. First: Have the courage to make a million mistakes and the wisdom to not make the same mistake a million times. Second: Employees of color have to harness their distinctions rather than run away from them. These distinctions are differences that many times are based on “Identity Defining Moments” or IDMs. Running towards the things that make you different, rather than hiding them to try to be the same as everyone else is the key to unlocking your secret sauce in the workplace. It takes time and guts to get there. But when you do, the outcome is magical and freeing. Third: We make a living by what we get but make a life by what we give. Early in your career you should be thinking about how you will lead while leaving a legacy. That will inform all your decisions to ensure when you leave this planet, it will be in a better place than when you found it.

DM: Please share your writing process.

EP: I write in spurts. I broke up the book into an outline, knowing which stories I wanted to tell in specific chapters. I wrote Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons and carved out at least five hours at a coffee shop in Brooklyn with my laptop, music, and chargers.  I knew what I needed to write about and would write long enough to eat both breakfast and lunch before calling it quits. In between the writing days, I would do research regarding the specific topics for each chapter.  I would mainly do my research at home. I didn’t need to be in a different place for creativity or inspiration. The mundaneness of my apartment worked perfectly for tasks like research and proofreading. Trying to do it at the same time was too disruptive to the story’s continuity. If I ever had a long airline flight, I would write by hand. It felt better writing by hand on the airplane. Then I would transfer my handwritten pieces to a Word document on my laptop and add in any additional changes or edits.

DM: Tell us a little about your background and what got you started as a writer.

EP: I grew up in New York and attended Fordham University. I lived in the Bronx for sixteen years after graduation and currently reside in Brooklyn. I teach Health Economics at Baruch College, NYU, and Columbia University in New York City. I also volunteer for several non-profits like MediNova, which focuses on medical missions in Haiti and Arthur Ashe Institute of Urban Health, focused on Health Equity in Brooklyn. I’ve always been a writer at heart, whether it was poetry, hiphop lyrics, research papers, or narratives. I love telling stories through different mediums. Writing is one such medium I enjoy, especially when I can use words to paint a picture for somebody to see exactly what I see.

DM: What writers or works have influenced your writing?

EP: My favorite author is Zadie Smith. She is a famous fictional writer based in England. While The Way Up is a business book, I was able to include some prose that attempts to be as descriptive as the books by Zadie Smith. Her writing style and her ability to develop complete and nuanced characters is an inspiration.  I also admire Malcolm Gladwell’s ability to distill complex, scientific concepts into digestible portions for readers who only have a cursory grasp of the subject matter. I love how his books teach a lesson in an entertaining and innovative way.

DM: How do you plan to promote this book?

EP: I’ll be hosting several fireside chats, guest lectures, and book reading over the next few months. You can visit my website, follow me on social media and see the press release on my book here.

DM: What are you working on next?

EP: I finished my doctoral degree this past summer. My dissertation analyzed the connection between citizenship status and healthcare coverage.  I’ll start to work on getting my dissertation research published in an academic journal.

DM: What question do you wish interviewers would ask you?

EP: Why are so few people of color at the upper echelons of corporate America despite their advancements in education and professional experience? What can companies do to authentically commit to changing these statistics?



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