Errol Pierre, SVP at a Large Non-Profit Health Plan in NY and Member of the President’s Council, Returns to Rose Hill to Discuss His New Book With Student Athletes
Featured Events | May 04, 2023 | Gabelli School of Business
On the evening of April 17, Errol Pierre, (GABELLI ’05), who was a member of the track and field team during his time at Fordham, was a guest speaker at a standing-room-only event for student athletes at the McShane Campus Center. Pierre, who is a member of the President’s Council and currently serves as senior vice president at a large non-profit health plan in New York, shared his professional and life experiences with students during an inspirational hour-long discussion.
The evening was kicked off with opening remarks by Edward Kull, Fordham’s director of athletics, followed by a riveting talk during which Pierre was interviewed by Rafael Angel Zapata, special assistant to the president for diversity/associate VP academic affairs/chief diversity officer at Fordham University. The conversation focused on Pierre’s recently released book titled, “The Way Up: Climbing the Corporate Mountain as a Professional of Color,” which he co-authored with award-winning writer, Jim Jermanok. The volume is designed as a practical guide to encourage and inspire underrepresented individuals from across ethnic backgrounds to achieve their professional goals and elevate their careers, while remaining authentic and true to their values.
When asked about the title of the book, Pierre explained that, while most individuals relate to the term “climbing the corporate ladder,” when visualizing their path to success, for professionals of color the journey may take less of a “rung by rung” approach. This is due to the inequities that remain in corporate culture, which often manifest in not fully recognizing and embracing the accomplishments of those from marginalized groups. For them, it may seem more like a climb up a mountain to success—one with unexpected stops, struggles and lateral moves. Yet Pierre’s talk was not at all discouraging. In fact, he urged students to never give up on pursuing their dreams and achieving their professional potential no matter what obstacles might stand in their way.
Pierre, the son of Haitian immigrants whose parents worked tirelessly to get ahead, and who instilled in him the importance of acquiring a college education, is deeply committed to serving as a mentor to those who will become the next generation of leaders. He credits his desire to give back to those who are just starting out to the nurturing and transformative Jesuit education he received at Fordham, and to the many individuals who mentored him in the corporate world throughout his career.
During his talk, Pierre took great care in reminding the young people who came to hear his words of wisdom to set their sights high, but to always follow their purpose and passion. He illustrated this point by taking a chapter from his own career, revealing the fact that when he was just 35, he became the youngest Black American COO at Empire BlueCross BlueShield, yet he remained personally and professionally unfulfilled. He ultimately resigned, making the decision to pursue his passion for providing health equity for all, by joining his current employer.
What made Pierre such a staunch advocate for health equity was his own experience with health inequity when he was just a teen. He required a root canal that would cost $3,000 to complete, but due to the $1,000 out-of-pocket maximum on his father’s dental insurance, he had to delay finishing the procedure until the following year in order for it to be covered.
He noted, “That’s what really got me focused on health insurance and healthcare, because there’s got to be a better way, we can’t tell millions of Americans to come back next year to finish healthcare procedures.”
Pierre also recounted a highly traumatic experience that occurred while he was a Fordham student, which for him, drove home a sense of being treated differently because of the color of his skin. It was an event that could have ruined his life, but from which he ultimately prevailed. During the height of the controversial stop-and-frisk policy in New York City, he was wrestled to the ground and arrested with no cause by plainclothes police officers on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. To his horror, he was placed in a holding cell at the police station, but was ultimately released. Yet a Class E felony for resisting arrest was issued and remained on his record for 10 long years, even though charges were dropped after his parents hired an attorney and his track coach and others provided character witness statements. Pierre characterized the incident as being an identity defining moment (IDM)—one that made him realize society treats people of color differently.
Pierre senses that his book can prove helpful to professionals of color, but also to anyone in a position of power who has the opportunity to create a better environment for people in underrepresented groups, helping them to move forward in the same ways as those who do not face these challenges. After the discussion, he signed complimentary copies of the book that were distributed to the first 150 attendees and spent time chatting with students about their plans for the future and paths to success.