Major in Finance. The Art of the Deal is intuitive… Finance is NOT
Fail Fast — It’s inevitable. Do it quickly and learn from it quicker.
People like people like them. Find connections quickly in business. It will close the deal faster.
As a part of our series about powerful women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ericka Pittman. She is a highly accomplished Marketing Executive with more than 25 years of success in the CPG, beauty, luxury goods, wine & spirits, food & beverage, tech, and media industries. Prior to joining Viola brands, Ericka was the Chief Marketing Officer at AQUAhydrate, Inc. where she was responsible for spearheading and directing the Company’s marketing, sales functions, and departmental goals, objectives, and operating procedures. Before AQUAhydrate, Ericka spent 9 years at Combs Enterprises holding multiple roles within the organization including Vice President of the Chairman’s Office. Ericka had previously spent 15 years working in interactive and publishing media, holding positions at iVillage.com; Honey, Heart & Soul, and Savoy Magazine (Vanguard Media Group); Baby Talk Magazine (Time Inc.); Glamour Magazine (Condé Nast); Vibe & Vixen Magazines (Vibe Media Group); and GIANT Magazine (Radio One Inc).
She currently serves as a member of a number of organizations including Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network (WEEN), National Association of Professional Women, and Advertising Women of New York (AWNY). She also lends her time and energy to a number of causes and other organizations, including Dress for Success and Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE).
Ericka holds a Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Corporate Communications from Baruch College as well as an Executive Women in Leadership certification from eCornell University. Originally from Brooklyn, NY, she now resides in Los Angeles, CA.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Prior to my move over to Viola I worked as the Chief Marketing Officer at AQUAhydrate, Inc. where I handled the company’s marketing, sales functions, and departmental goals, objectives, and operating procedures. Prior to that, I spent 9 years at Combs Enterprises holding multiple roles within the organization including Vice President of the Chairman’s Office. I’ve had a rather diverse history with CPG, beauty, luxury goods, wine & spirits, food & beverage, tech, and media industries.
However, I’ve been interested in the cannabis industry for a while. I was compelled by how fast the industry was growing and the wealth of opportunity to really make a very deep impact in the space. I also felt that given the power and malleability of this industry came to the responsibility I had to assure Black voices and interests were reflected in the space.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Well, the obvious story is COVID-19; I sort of think this is the most interesting thing to happen to business since The Big Short of ’08. The cannabis community is experiential by nature. With shelter in place guidelines in place, the ability to connect with people in real-time was eliminated. A mere eight weeks into my role, I was forced to quickly pivot and create a new strategy to connect with our core audience.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was in sales early on in my career, I was terrible at managing my travel calendar. In an attempt to maximize my schedule I would overbook my travel schedule to a point where I barely had time to arrive and prepare for meetings. On one occasion I decided to wear casual clothing on my flight and change at my hotel when I arrived. Unfortunately, the meeting was an hour earlier than I had anticipated and I was forced to run through customs and change clothes in the airport bathroom- it was a complete disaster! I learned to arrive a day early for work-related travel whenever possible.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
The executive role attracted itself to me more than myself to it through the work I put in throughout my career.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The key differentiator this title has from other leaders is creativity and macro-level decision making. When you lead, your team looks to you for direction, ideas, and innovation that are the essential starting point for product success sweeping brand campaigns and partnerships. Bringing creativity and originality is the key component of a c-suite executive’s responsibilities.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
The one thing I enjoy the most about the executive role is the universe I get to build around it. The autonomy I get to exercise in the building (initiatives, partnerships, campaigns, events) brings forth a diverse world of creatives and leaders I get to interface with every day. This constant collaboration not only keeps my mind very nimble but offers the opportunity to learn even more every single day.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
With great power, comes great responsibility — and pressure. There are very high expectations that come with the job and immense pressure to generate a constant stream of success for the whole team. Being an executive requires emotional neutrality, thick skin, and persistence. Many leaders venture into the unknown and doing so sometimes means experiencing the growing pains of learning. And when all eyes are on you as that leader, not only do you have to pick yourself back up after failing, but pick the whole team back up — one by one. And when the question of, “What do we do now?” comes, that is your quest to solve.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I’ve often heard throughout my career, “You’re ONLY as good as your people” and while that statement holds true, in part, the reality is “company culture” trickles from the top. It is vital for any successful leader to lead by example and to create an environment that supports its employees and socializes the company mission.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
There are many but the primary challenge lies in the consistent effort to combat stereotypes on top of successfully doing your job. We’re all aware of the pervasive (and false) notions women grapple with every day such as “women being too emotional” or being shut out from opportunities many perceive are best handled by men who are more “assertive and strong.” There is this phenomenon of tone-policing that both women exercise on themselves and their work environment exercises on them. We are tasked to be wary of how we say certain things so we’re not misconstrued as frivolous or overreaching, while these same exact traits are celebrated among our male counterparts. This uneven landscape also feeds into the economic disparities and wage gaps among women versus men, which are deepened among people of color.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought that cannabis was a casual easy-going business. The culture of cannabis is very chill but the business of cannabis is the exact opposite. It is a 24/7 commitment. Cannabis is very nuanced and intricate and requires a tremendous amount of specific knowledge (on a state by state level).
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
The hallmark traits of any successful executive are initiative, persistence, and creativity. It is the confluence of those characteristics that allow leaders to forge through creating their own path and navigate detours when life throws us a curveball. In tandem, what we don’t want to be is the complete star of the show. A true leader is a conduit between their team and opportunities. No one person knows everything about anything and to assume you can reach success on your own is foolish. A good leader listens to their team to build towards success, rather than chasing it on your own.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
To be as fearless as you are good to one another. At the end of the day, across every sector, we are all women. And the saying that a group is only as strong as its weakest link applies to female leaders. There are very tangible ways to generate wealth and success for yourself that is not at the expense of other women. When we channel our energy into building each other up, our fearlessness, our boldness is amplified to reach new heights we are not able to reach on our own.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful for helping you to get to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have had the blessing of more help than I would ever imagine. There isn’t one person specifically I can point my success towards but instead a myriad of dynamic personalities across industries, male/female, superior/subordinate. The decade at Combs Enterprises made me the sharpest.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’ve used all the skills and lessons I’ve cultivated throughout my career to inform work that is rooted in purpose. I know how to conceptualize campaigns and strategic partnerships that move the needle. But to do so in a concerted effort to uplift people who look like me is what brings value to my work. Channeling these skills and resources to build something like Viola Cares transforms every executive’s success at the company is into other people’s success. And when you are able to multiply success like that, it becomes a legacy. That is something I’m very proud to be a part of.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Major in Finance. The Art of the Deal is intuitive… Finance is NOT
- Fail Fast — It’s inevitable. Do it quickly and learn from it quicker.
- People like people like them. Find connections quickly in business. It will close the deal faster.
- EQ is a real factor in Executive Success. Learn to manage ego early and often.
- Make a decision and make it the RIGHT decision — (Thanks Dia Simms)
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The blackout of the cannabis industry. The current wave of social unrest has pushed us as a nation to take a hard look at how we have disenfranchised and immobilized the Black community from reaching economic autonomy. If we can influence a movement that not only opens the doors of opportunity for Black people but equips them with the skills and resources to hold that door open for generations to come, the lasting impact becomes endless. And that’s what we’re trying to do at Viola — create generational wealth. Viola Cares is only the tip of the iceberg.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My Life Lesson Quote is from my book What Mommy Never Told You: “…it is out of the devastation that evolution occurs.” This statement is important because it helps me manage the fear of failure. Life’s failures are a gift and a lesson.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
If afforded the opportunity I would love to have breakfast with Michelle Obama. I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting President Obama but never Mrs. Obama. Michelle Obama’s humble beginnings are similar to my own and I am always so impressed with how poised she is in every situation. She is a brilliant intellectual and I would love the opportunity to exchange ideas both personally and professionally with her.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.