Ericka Pittman in many ways is like a complicated melody — there’s layers to experience and the more you engage you’ll hear various notes in different ways.
She’s tough yet vulnerable, strong yet gentle, luxury with a mix of grit. Her life has created the perfect blend of experiences that allow her to simultaneously be a leader in one of the largest hip-hop empires and stay a powerful feminine force that many young women look to for guidance.
At first connection, Ericka comes off quick, she moves fast and if you don’t keep up you may get left. The more you speak to her it becomes evident that she has high expectations of herself and everyone around her. Yet while she has these expectations she’s committed that everyone that enters her sphere wins.
With a bit more time you notice that underneath the hard exterior and her intrinsic requirement for excellence is a softness and gentleness that just wants the best for people.
As Vice President of the Chairman’s Office at Combs Enterprise, Pittman's job includes a mixture of strategy, operations, marketing, and a ton of multi-tasking. It’s her job to liaise between her boss Sean Combs, 22 on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list and the heads of his nine portfolio brands that encompass his empire.
CREATE caught up with Ericka in between LA meetings. We spoke everything from branding to her greatest life lesson and what femininity truly means — on an intellectual level.
CREATE: In your own words what does your role as VP of the Chairman's office at Combs Enterprises entail?
Pittman: My role is to bridge the communication between our portfolio brands and the Chairman. We have nine companies -- Sean John, Sean John Fragrances, Revolt TV, AquaHydrate, Ciroc, DeLeon, Bad Boy Records, Bad Boy Films, and Blue Flame the Agency.
I also work in figuring out cross-synergistic strategies across company for efficiencies. For example, we make sure that, if we are executing Revolt Music Conference, the other brands are aware of what the entire organization is doing and that we're maximizing our Chairmans' presence and exposure for all of the brands.
CREATE: What does it take to get to a place where your boss essentially hand picks you and creates a role just for you?
Pittman: Something that was communicated to me was that I was in a place, after six years, of checking the boxes of everything that was required of me, specifically from him.
Personally, for me, it was a function of being excellent in everything that I did for and throughout the organization. At that point I already had the privilege and the honor of working on every single one of our businesses under the portfolio in some capacity.
Because of that, I have a bit of perspective on each of the business lines and each of their objectives, their consumer targets, and the strategies that we set forth over the years for each of them.
I can look at each of the businesses and see where we can cross wires and create efficiencies to create a bigger and more dynamic message for everyone involved.
CREATE: How do you approach designing and building brands?
Pittman: The first think you always have to ask yourself in any brand building exercise, is ‘ “Where is the hole, where is the white space, what's missing in what I’m trying to do?”
Whether it's creating another vodka or being a female empowerment speaker these things aren’t new concepts – it’s really about identifying what's missing in that space and figuring out whether or not you or the brand you're creating fills that void.
Identify a niche by backing into what is needed from the market place. Finding your white space in any scenario is the first step to creating a brand.
Honing in on where the area for opportunity is, figuring out how your brand fits that niche, and figuring out a solution for that particular space are the three components of successfully building out a brand.
CREATE: You have an upcoming book titled, "What Mommy Never Told You: A Young Woman's Guide to the Next Phases of Life" What caused the desire to help young women in this way?
Pittman: Often times, we've had very rigid rules and parameters around how to be as a young girl or woman. Advice like -- use your inside voice, cross your legs, head up, shoulders back, legs crossed, graduate from college, get a good job, find a husband.
Then life happens – you become an adult, you've checked most if not all of the standard boxes, and there's no guidebook or rule on what to do next.
I thought it was important to create an easy going, easy to read guide for young women, based on my experience on what has and hasn’t worked in my life.
It's everything from career to finances to relationships looking at, “what's next?”
I haven't gotten married at 26 or 30 years old, what does that mean for me? I've been a coordinator or a marketing manager at this job -- how do I transition into the next role in my career.
CREATE: I think we all can relate to wondering, what’s next? What type of nuggets or personal advice would you give young women in creating their own path?
Pittman: I think it's a couple of things.
Number one is to be a solutions-based employee. Identify the problems; it's fine to do that. More importantly work to identify a solution. Finding solutions often times are the things that get you the gold medal.
If people revere you as a problem solver or a solutions-based contributor they will seek your input and guidance in certain matters that don't have anything to do with your core skill-set. This will introduce you to new opportunities.
Another thing I would say is to always close the circle, if you're working on a project make sure that you're committed to the project -- see it through. Make sure you do your work with excellence, at the same time make sure you’re in tuned with other people that are involved with the project and figure out how you can help them to make sure that the entire project is a success.
The third thing I would say is, simply, be excellent. Do your best work, put your best foot forward, and the work will speak for itself.
CREATE: You made an important decision in your grandmother’s passing. Can you tell us about the promise you made to your and how it has impacted your life?
Pittman: Maybe six or seven months before my grandmother passed away she pulled out this beaded gown and was very prescriptive about what she wanted to wear in her casket.
At the time I said wow, “this is just so morbid like why are you even talking about this.”
She said, "It's not a big deal, but I want you to know where the dress is, that I would like to wear in my casket.”
That's the vein of how this woman lived. She was very clear about the type of life she wanted to live, the things she wanted to do in her life, and how she wanted to operate. And she lived a really full, amazing life.
I gave my grandmother’s eulogy and one of the things that I considered in her passing was, "What are they going to say about me at my eulogy when I'm laying in a coffin and there are no more opportunities to be exactly who I want to be.”
It gave me this sobering mortality moment that said, "I have to live my life out loud. I have to be fully and wholly who I am, through the line, at work, at home, no matter where I am. I have to be me, authentically and boldly.”
I realized it wasn’t until I embraced that part of my life, the vulnerable side of life that I was really going to achieve success and be the type of person that I want to be.
CREATE: That takes so much courage! You mentioned vulnerability. One of the things you speak of often is a woman leveraging the feminine in business, not just from a physical perspective but also from an intellectual one.
Pittman: Sexuality and femininity -- I talk about it a lot because very few women really understand the difference between the two and they are both powerful and equally ours to possess and use at our will.
There's far more strength in femininity than ever could be in sexuality. If women could learn to embrace the difference and learn how to use femininity, they have an added advantage to their counterpart.
When I say that femininity is cerebral, it's about how we’re hardwired to think. If you look at some of the qualities surrounding femininity we're nurturers, we have empathy for the most part, we're great multi-taskers, we’re able to combine thoughts and ideas in a way that creates synergy.
Men compartmentalize and take on tasks in a way that is very separate and often times fragmented, not in a negative way, but that's how men approach situations.
Women have the ability to see every aspect and how one is going to affect the other because we are so nurturing. We can process the impact that a decision might make on four or five other things in a way that doesn't necessarily connect for a man.
If we can use these tools in a business setting we have an added advantage.
CREATE: What do you want people to know about Ericka Pittman?
Pittman: That they don't already know? I want people to know that I authentically believe in doing well by doing good. I don't just say it, I really work towards helping people every single day of my life.
Anyone that knows me intimately knows that I'm the person that will put a quarter in a meter that's running low because I don't want somebody to get a ticket. I come across stringent sometimes but at the core of who I am, I care about what happens to people.
CREATE: I get that. If you were to describe your life in movie title what would it be?
Pittman: I don't have any super fancy titles. But I think, "The Concrete Road" might be a good one, because I am from the school of hard knocks.
While I lived a great childhood, I didn't grow up in the best neighborhoods. I've also been raised, nurtured, and guided to be a very gentle, spiritual, and feminine soul.
As a result -- I have this exterior that's really concrete and rigid and a bit rugged but at the core of who I am is very soft and demure and pure and kind inside.
The dichotomy of those two things shows up throughout my entire life, in everything that I do. I think it would be a really good -- definitely a good novel and we'll figure out how to turn it into an amazing screenplay.