By Samuel T. Clover ’91
Talking with Nkrumah Pierre ’06 is like boarding a high-speed luxury train: He’s polished, solid, agile, and speaks with a rapid cadence that drives the conversation forward while never losing focus of the topic—or you. Key qualities from someone who makes his living by networking.
Pierre was recently recognized by The Network Journal —a monthly business magazine that focuses on black professionals and small business owners—in its annual “40 Under Forty” feature, which honors people making an impact in their profession and community.
At the time, he was senior manager of business development for the New York-based recruiting and staffing firm Russell Tobin & Associates. He was recognized for his community work, which includes serving on United Way’s Young Leaders Council and mentoring children and youth through Harlem Children’s Zone and through Sponsors for Educational Opportunity.
He’s now managing director of business development for My Business Matches, an online portal that connects buyers and suppliers virtually and in person.
The power of connections
An economics and business graduate, Pierre developed a passion for leadership at Lafayette by building connections through academics, work with several student organizations, and internships.
“My experiences in officer roles with Brothers of Lafayette and as a resident adviser allowed me to become comfortable being uncomfortable,” he says. “I learned humility, the importance of compliance, and how to deal with a plethora of diverse personalities while remaining upbeat and inspirational. Additionally, I truly learned the value of having strong mentors.”
Pierre met one of his key mentors, John Pierce ’81, vice president of real estate and facilities for Phoenix House, in 2008 while serving on the steering committee for Lafayette’s McDonogh Network.
“The five-year experience has been invaluable,” says Pierre, who is now in his second year as president of the New York City Alumni Chapter. “John is a savvy business executive with an incredible network. I enjoy his even temperament, upbeat personality, honest opinions, and uncanny dedication to diversity and paying it forward.”
Myopic no more
Given his success, it’s ironic that at one time Pierre was adamant about not becoming a recruiter. He started his career at M&T Bank, where he entered a competitive training program in commercial real estate finance. When the recession hit in 2008, he left with a severance package and no idea what his next move would be.
“A friend from Lafayette called and said, ‘Would you be interested in working for a recruiting firm?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not! I went to Lafayette for finance!’ I was myopic: I was this unemployed person trying to tell an employed person what I needed to do. But he was tenacious, and he called me back and convinced me.”
“I was shivering in my shoes”
Resilience is one of Pierre’s assets. In his second week at Russell Tobin, he and three colleagues were slated to represent the firm at a national conference in Denver, scheduled for the end of October 2012—when Hurricane Sandy hit. Pierre was able to fly out but his colleagues were grounded. He singlehandedly maintained the show booth and pressed the flesh with nearly 6,000 people.
“I was shivering in my shoes,” Pierre says. “I had to represent this company that I had only known for two weeks. I called my boss and he said, ‘Take a breath. You know what I’d do if I were in your situation? I’d go to a Broncos game.’ So I went there, had the time of my life, and met a potential client. The next morning I manned the booth for seven hours. I was supposed to go back Tuesday or Wednesday, but because flights were canceled I couldn’t go back until Friday. And I did, with a multimillion-dollar contract.”