It was later in the day and the Starbucks crowd had dwindled, so we claimed the cozy high-back chairs in a corner. Weak spring sunlight slanted through the small windows to our left as Scott and I sat back and began our conversation.
Scott's teenage years were not easy. He grew up in Minneapolis and moved to St. Louis when his mom re-married an engineer from this area (one week later his dad re-married, too). He was 16 and in his junior year, so he transitioned to a new town and high school with only one year left. "I bawled like a baby in the car driving down from Minneapolis. I left in August, a week before school started." The move, coupled with both of his parents re-marrying at the same time... it was rough.
A few short weeks later Scott began his final year of high school at Normandy. Before he started he didn't know that the racial makeup was 80% black. "I was this preppy white guy who listened to black music. I was a complete anomaly and they didn't know how to deal with me. It was just weird. But I ended up integrating pretty well and made some good friends."
After high school, Scott went to college (UMSL). Unfortunately, it didn't last too long. By his second semester his grades had dipped, ultimately costing him his scholarship. He'd also taken his parent's car out for a joy ride and lied about it. That was the final straw for his mom and step-dad. Scott was forced to move out.
"I would never in a million years kick my kid out of the house unless they had to go to federal prison for something they had done; but he and I made amends many, many years before he passed." While Scott still disagrees with the decision to kick him out of the house, he admits that his step-dad probably thought Scott was "flushing his potential down the toilet" and there was a certain amount of truth to that. "I was wasting my scholarship and perhaps my intellect."
After moving into his frat house, he began working full time as a sales rep and attending classes at night. The job was a good one and soon he was making great money and was given a company car. His drive to complete college was gone, because why would he need a degree when he was doing great without one?
Seven-'ish' years later, that changed. Scott was interviewing for a VP of Sales position and it was going great. The CEO told him, "I'd love to hire you". Stoked, he responded, "Well I would love to work for you!" But it wasn't to be. Without a degree, the CEO couldn't even bring Scott before his executive committee. It was gut-wrenching, but life changing.
Personal Change Dynamics
This same executive told Scott about executive education programs in the area and encouraged him to apply. As it turns out, he had been reading Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The book discusses personal change dynamics and how to align your core beliefs with your professional life. The combination of this conversation and the content of this book motivated Scott to pursue a degree once again.
Thanks to the math tutor he hired, Scott passed the GMAT "by the hair of my chiny-chin-chin" and began his MBA at Washington University. Going to graduate school was the first time he fully completed an academic task from end to end. In high school he did just enough to get by. "Had you asked me when I was in high school would I have a graduate degree from Washington University, I would say never in a million years. I did not see that at all. It was not even in my wildest dreams."
North Highland is a management consulting firm and Scott is the Vice President St. Louis Market Lead, a role he feels he couldn't be in if it weren't for his drive to further his education. Day to day he helps Fortune 1500 companies solve "big hairy complex problems by breaking them down into manageable chunks".
Working for another company, Scott came across an ad for North Highlander on LinkedIn and contacted someone he knew in the firm. He was introduced to the recruiter and two months later he accepted an offer.
"So what was really interesting to me is, it is an Employee by Ownership model so all of our employees are owners in the Firm, so the incentives are aligned. As we create more value, everyone participates in that value creation. We also try to deliver locally with our services so we can't have a failure on a project; because we are still in the community with the people we do business with."
Happily Ever After
After a 30 minute long conversation about comedy (see: Gentrification of Brooklyn, Hashtag Video), including our favorite movies and skits, Scott told me about his family. And the way he met his wife...
"So, I was bouncing checks at Mark Twain Bank and she had just been promoted from working in the lobby. Back then you had to have someone in the bank vouch for you for the revolving credit line that covered your check overdraft protection. One of my buddies signed for me and so he had to call me and say 'What the hell are you doing? You are bouncing checks.' So he made the appointment for me to sit down with her and she helped me balance my account. She found it amusing that I wasn't too concerned."
Before she decided to date Scott, his wife did her due diligence, asking each teller what he was like and then asking his friend if he was single. His friend's answer: "Yeah, he's a little too single." Soon thereafter they had lunch together and the rest is history! "So, bouncing checks is the way to a woman's heart," Scott laughed. They have two daughters together and Scott is now living happily ever after. The End!