Derek Lewis Talks Fatherhood, Upcoming Book Survive + Advance, & More

Tell us more about yourself, who you are and what you do?

I was born and raised in the Chocolate City. Washington, D.C. is a place I’m proud to call my hometown. I was the oldest of three boys and grew up in a single-parent household where I had to assume a lot of responsibility at a very early age. I attended Hampton University in Virginia, graduated in 1988, and started my career with Pepsi as a campus hire. I worked at Pepsi for 35 years until I retired at the end of 2022. For the last eleven years of my career, I held several president-level C-Suite roles. I also have been happily married for 31 years to my wife Sherene, whom I met at Hampton, and we have 3 children, Devon (28), Jordan (25) and Kellan (18). We moved around a lot throughout my career, but we have lived in Orlando for the past 16 years. During my retirement transition year in 2023, I became busier than ever. I became an author, an entrepreneur, and joined multiple boards, but I’ve also been able to travel and play a lot of golf.

Take us back to your upbringing, did/do you have a relationship with your father? And how has that relationship impacted your life?

I did not have a real relationship with my father. I don’t recall even calling him daddy. My parents divorced when I was around nine years old. For the brief time he was around, he was always in and out. He had lots of personal challenges and struggles, many of which I witnessed, up close and personal. So, I spent very little time with him, and we essentially never developed a strong emotional connection. I wanted that feeling and attachment, but it just didn’t seem to play out. During the times I did get to hang with him, it was basically transactional. It did bother me that I didn’t have a father around to do “Dad”-like stuff, interactions I would see between other kids in my school or in the neighborhood and their fathers. But I wasn’t alone; it seemed like a lot of kids were in the same situation back in the 70s. Based on those circumstances, I knew early on that I wanted to create a better environment for my kids. I wanted a complete household. I wanted to raise my children and be part of their lives. I wanted to love them like no one else could ever love them. I wanted them to know I always would have their back no matter what. I wanted them to call me Daddy.

You’re in the middle of writing your book Survive + Advance, tell us more about that and what you look to accomplish?

The idea for the book was, funnily enough, not mine. Once I announced my retirement from Pepsi, I heard from a lot of people such as my colleagues, students, neighbors, and family, who asked me if I would consider writing a book, highlighting the many personal and professional lessons that I’d learned throughout my career and life. So, I thought about it over the holidays and that’s how I ended up here. I have really enjoyed the process of doing this book. My ghostwriter has been outstanding to work with. I am excited about what the final product will look like. I am hoping it will inspire others to pursue their dreams, become the best version of themselves and do live life authentically, making a difference on what matters and where it matters the most.

What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself since partaking in all your impactful business endeavors?

I learned that the only limitations you can experience in life are the ones you put on yourself. You can be who you really want to be. Success doesn’t necessarily come easy to most of us, but hard work, determination, and faith can make all the difference in the world for what you want to accomplish personally and professionally. If you can see it, then you can believe it. If you believe it, then you can achieve it.

What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself since becoming a Father?

That I don’t always get things right, and that I can be a better dad tomorrow than I was yesterday. So, while there is a lot to celebrate on how far I’ve come, there also is more room to grow and do better as a parent. That’s exciting for me, especially given what I experienced as a child.

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Who is Derek Lewis as a Father?

Since I love sports so much, I probably act more like the head coach of a team than a typical dad (LOL). We call ourselves Team Lewis. All three of my kids have been very successful in sports throughout their childhood and early adult lives. We also enjoy watching sports together or attending live events. It’s something that I didn’t get to fully pursue as a child, even when I knew the experiences could make me a better person. So, if I couldn’t do it for myself, I was going to go all in for my kids.

Any advice to others navigating their journey in balancing fatherhood while building a thriving career that might take up a lot of their time?

I have always made it a priority to bring balance to my life so that no matter what was
going on, I would not regret the choices I made. That means that I have taken advantage of every moment I have been given to spend time with my children. Even though I had a very hectic travel schedule, I made the majority of their games and was there to help them academically. It meant that I had to take a lot of late-night and early-morning flights, but sitting in that gym or embracing my child after they aced a test was priceless. I was there to witness some of the greatest moments my kids had in their academic and athletic careers.

Give us three tips on how to Survive + Advance in fatherhood from your point of

One: Choose the right partnership and commit to it. I would not be the father I am today without Sherene. We knew that we had the same life goals from the beginning, and we’ve always been on Team Lewis together, building a plan for ourselves and our kids.

Two: Create the right home base. As soon as I could in my career, I rigged the game
so that I didn’t have to move and so that our kids could have stability. I was able to do
that because of my performance at work. But Sherene and I chose that not only so that
we’d have a base for the kids, but so that we’d get the lifestyle we all wanted to live, be
very close to the sports world we love and the activities that allow us to have fun and
maintain that work-life balance. I also have made sure that, no matter what, our family
has fun.

Three: Be loving, but also someone who holds your children to high-enough expectations. Your children need you to make them feel safe enough to fly high.

If you could write a short letter to your dad starting with “Dear Father”, what would you say?

Dear Dad, first off thank you for bringing me, my brothers and sister in this world. I am
proud to be your son. I know we didn’t get to have the type of relationship that either
one of us probably expected, but it was all part of God’s plan as you are aware of now.
I am grateful for all the lessons I learned from you, directly or indirectly. They have kept me on track and made me a better person. Being a great father is something I had to put tremendous vision into at a very young age because I didn’t have an in house blueprint to guide me. I feel super blessed to be where I am today and recognizing I can continue to get better. I look forward to that opportunity each day. As you see things play out, I hope you are proud too. It feels like a part of you is still living through me on this journey. Love your son.

What’s next for you? How can people follow you?

People can follow me on social media @realdereklewis, and stay tuned on the launch of Survive + Advance.

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