Leaning into Leadership: Interview with Scott Davis
Introducing Scott Davis, chief growth officer at Prophet. Scott has been my long-time mentor at Prophet, teaching me almost everything I know about being a good, empathetic leader, brand and marketing strategy and Prophet. Scott has been at Prophet for longer than I and has helped to shape this company into something that has kept me here for so long, from both a culture and an offer perspective. He knows the CMO like no other and has a passion for sharing his expertise with Propheteers and clients alike. Scott is a prolific speaker and author and if you get a chance to have him as a leader on your project, take it. He will transform and drive impact for you personally and professionally. I’ve experienced it firsthand and I’ve seen clients experience it firsthand, both during projects and long after. Enjoy my interview with my friend and colleague Scott!
Amanda Nizzere: What do you do at Prophet and in what circumstances would I come to you for something?
Scott Davis: At Prophet, I wear several different hats. As chief growth officer, I help lead our overall go-to-market position in the market: who we are, what we stand for, what we promise and why a client should choose Prophet as their partner of choice. A big part of my role is continuously making sure we are both anticipating and meeting the needs of the market and our clients and potential clients…helping them get to what we call uncommon growth – growth that is transformative, sustainable and – of course – profitable. I also wear hats tied to our non-profit work, our corporate marketing efforts, our growth accelerator efforts and am part of our Executive Committee. I also love developing our team and playing a role in building our culture…that is probably the best part of my job!
I most often get called in by a client that has a brand-driven growth strategy issue; a brand repositioning issue; a brand portfolio and architecture issue; or needs help to create a new brand for a company or an M&A opportunity they are navigating. If any of those are the issues you are facing, I’m your guy. My 30-year arc has been all around helping clients figure out how to maximize the asset value of both the brands’ companies build and the marketing efforts leaders deploy. I have written a few books about both.
AN: How did you start your career and what brought you to Prophet?
SD: I started my career at Procter and Gamble, where I was fortunate to learn about the wonderful world of packaged soap – from Tide and Joy to Dawn and Ariel – I was the “clean-up” guy. All kidding aside, I helped launch liquid Cascade and, in doing that, I learned the art of shaping customer perceptions, attitudes and behaviors; and the ability to influence the choices they make when choosing one product over another, even when they are highly commoditized. In a world where there was very little differentiation, brands often became the consumer’s final arbiter, often regardless of price.
After P&G, I went to graduate school at Kellogg, and even though I had my heart set on Wall Street, I went to our “job fair” during my first year. At the time, I knew very little about consulting, but I visited the tables of the Big Five firms out of curiosity. I was amazed that you could build a career helping companies figure out how to solve problems, across industries, with a focus on learning and growth. I took my summer internship in consulting between my first and second year at Kellogg – and never looked back, which ultimately led me to Prophet.
AN: Is there anyone who has influenced the way you approach your work?
SD: Yes, I was fortunate enough to meet a mentor early in my career. Carl was a senior partner at Booz Allen and worked with me at my first job. He taught me what consulting was: this idea of helping companies solve problems, and get to whatever’s next for them, in a way they couldn’t get to on their own. Carl also taught me that the best consultants help teach their clients along the project journey, leaving them fully ready to take on activating whatever recommendations we put forward, on their own. I find that part of the job to be so fulfilling and empowering.
Carl also taught me the idea that there are two kinds of consultants: hunters and farmers. The hunters are those that bring in new business. The farmers are those that land an account and stay on that account forever. Both are absolutely required in consulting and it’s good to figure out which you want to invest in as you grow your career.
Finally, Carl planted the seed of an idea about me building my personal brand in consulting. He said it could have been as simple as becoming really strong in one area, like brand, and being asked to be on projects, or it could go as far as becoming well known externally for having a point of view on something — writing about it, speaking on the topic, teaching others inside and outside of my organization and becoming sought out by others that were looking for help. For me, that topic was brand, and at the time, there were only a few people famous on the topic of brand, my colleague and friend David Aaker being the gold standard. I thought that if I could do 5% of what Dave was doing, I might actually have a shot at a career. Carl and I carved out a 5-year plan and journey for me to become a brand. It could have totally bombed, but luckily it worked out okay and culminated with me writing my first book called Brand Asset Management. This also led me to work with David Aaker and join Prophet.
AN: What is your go-to productivity hack?
SD: A few things. My first is not a tool, but a person. My assistant, Tracy, is key to my productivity. She reviews my calendar at least four days, four weeks and four months out, as well as every single day to prioritize and work out conflicts. Together we block out four to five hours a week – just for work time. I find it challenging to get actual work done in a world where we’re all in back-to-back meetings, so those work blocks every week are critical.
The next hack might seem small, but for me, it has a big impact. Every half-hour meeting – I believe – can be 25 minutes and every one-hour meeting, 50. It gives everyone breathing space between meetings to recharge and do whatever they need to do. This hack allows me, personally, to switch gears quickly because whoever I’m talking to in my next meeting expects me to be fully prepared to engage, as they should.
AN: If you could snap your fingers and become an expert in something, what would it be?
SD: Many of my close friends are doctors, so I would want to be in the inner circles of those leading the study of how the brain works – neurologists. Alzheimer’s and Dementia are in my family, and I don’t understand it to the level I want to. In a world where you live to solve problems for others, this one seems unsolvable. I’ve watched loved ones suffer and it causes so much pain all around. If I could understand it better, maybe I could at least help my loved ones navigate it more successfully. The second answer to your question would be to run a professional sports organization, ideally the Chicago Cubs, but that is for another time!
AN: What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
SD: I have white water rafted every major river across the US. I have been to over 500 concerts. The most memorable was Queen in a small town about an hour and a half outside of Nice, France. They performed in an outdoor arena that only held about 10,000 people. It turns out, this was a concert on their last tour. I also had a three-hour lunch, one on one, with Julia Child, just the two of us in a “closed for the day” restaurant in Boston.
AN: What’s the one thing you’re trying to make a habit?
SD: I don’t know if you can call this a habit, but I decided a while back, that it was important to talk to my mom (and dad) every single day. It could be 30 seconds or 20 minutes, but just a just quick hello check-in and an I love you. I didn’t think about this much when I was younger and often took our relationships for granted. As I got older and life started to happen, I realized I needed to prioritize the things in life that are true priorities, my family being number one.
These are Scott’s answers to my new “Rapid Fire” questions. The interviewee did not see these in advance and had only a few seconds to think about their responses. Enjoy!
- How are you uncommon? I haven’t had a french fry since 2012. Tied to this, my grandfather was one “yes” decision away from opening up the second McDonald’s franchise and being Ray Croc’s second partner. I don’t think we would have this conversation if that had gone down.
- What’s your favorite day of the year, and why? Thanksgiving. It’s a day where I’m guaranteed to see all the people I love in one place and I can count on it every year.
- What’s your favorite place in the world? I have so many favorites but at the top would have to be Grand Cayman. We go every year and it’s as much about how beautiful the island and Seven Mile Beach are as it is about knowing that I will have precious time with my family for a couple of uninterrupted weeks a year, in our home away from home.
- What is one thing in business that no one is talking about, but should? AI and machine learning and the profound impact it will have on every business. I believe it’s going to disrupt everything in our marketing and brand world in ways we can’t even imagine, as have already seen with Chat GPT. We need to get smarter, get ahead of the curve, and start understanding how it can be a friend as opposed to this fear and anxiety and force of evil that many people think it could be. I really think it could take things to the next level in a positive way.
- What charitable organizations or initiatives do you support? I am passionate about ending hunger, and all the systemic issues that cause somebody to find themselves in a position of not knowing where their next meal is going to come from. One in six people go to bed every night not knowing where their next meal is going to come from…how can that happen in the richest country on our planet? Putting food on somebody’s table is a fundamental right but understanding the root causes of how someone got there—most often through no fault of their own—is the real job. I was in Springfield in May, advocating with legislators to pass several crucial bills, tied to education, jobs, meals in schools, working more closely with farmers, etc. all in the spirit of trying to tackle the hunger crisis in Illinois. I’m an optimist and truly believe that we will solve this seemingly unsolvable puzzle, sooner than you think.
ABOUT THE SERIES
“Throughout my career, I have been fascinated with the building blocks of leadership, from motivation, coaching and communication to mentorship, empathy, inspiration and more. Unraveling and understanding what makes a strong and impactful leader tick can help us implement new strategies to grow as individuals and leaders. Over the years, I’ve listened to podcasts, read books, attended conferences and listened to TED Talks about various leadership topics, but some of the most impactful lessons and pieces of advice I’ve learned have been from those around me—my mentors, colleagues and industry peers—which led me to create this interview series. I invite you to join me as I interview various leaders in my network to share new tools and wise advice from them that you may want to add to your leadership toolbox.” – Amanda Nizzere, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer