Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Robert Scott

By Kim Roth

scottlgWestern michigan is a long way from Moscow. So, while growing up in Kalamazoo in the 1950s, Robert D. Scott (BSE CE '75) never imagined he'd see the Kremlin. Or Saudi Arabia for that matter. Or thought he'd find himself across the table from Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Scott McNealy discussing the direction of their respective companies (Microsoft and Sun Microsystems).

He has.

Shortly after graduation, Scott began a career with Procter & Gamble that has spanned nearly 30 years - and the globe.

Scott's first job as a systems analyst in P&G's engineering division served as the stepping stone to a dozen other positions of increasing scope, responsibility and, as Scott sees it, opportunity.

He's worked in virtually every business area within P&G, implementing information systems and integrating new business units. He's also overseen the global consolidation of the company's computing and communications infrastructure.

Some Quick Facts About Robert Scott

Degree: BSE CE '75

Title: Vice President, Information Technology, Global Market Development Organization, Procter & Gamble Company, Cincinnati, Ohio

Professional Affiliations: Conference Board Council of Information Systems Executives (chair); National Advisory Committee, College of Engineering, University of Michigan; Michigan Business School Information Systems Executive Forum

Community Affiliations: Cincinnati CyberVillage (chair); Cincinnati Black Data Processing Association (Corporate Advisory Council); Arts Consortium of Cincinnati

Scott isn't fazed by the enormity of his projects - he has a method. He's a big believer in leadership through teams. "If you create a strong team and paint a strong vision, the team will orchestrate movement toward it." From there, he said, you tackle the work in manageable chunks. To consolidate the company's IT and communications infrastructure, first he consolidated data centers, then email and, finally, telecommunications networks. "You know the vision, you break it into bites you can do and you work against that."

To Scott, it's just that simple.

Regardless of the business units to which he's been assigned, including food and beverage, packaged soap and detergent, global fabric and home care, or the specific objectives at hand, he espouses flexibility. "You just never know which assignment will make your career take off."

Building relationships is critically important, too, and one of the successes of which he's most proud. While spending four years in Belgium to manage P&G's IT services for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, he learned how to build relationships cross-culturally. "It was a real coming out, learning how to be a citizen of the world, which is very different than being a U.S. citizen leading a global organization."

Scott admitted he's "very much an anomaly," with respect to both his tenure and position level. And underpinning it all, he said, is his U-M education. "Michigan taught me how to learn. It's not about the specifics - frankly I rarely use those - but how to continually learn.

"Not that it didn't put me through its paces," he added. As a freshman he was caught off guard by the level of competition. After earning a zero on a chemistry quiz - his first zero ever - he realized discipline was in order. He made Dean's List every quarter and was inducted into the freshman honor society and National Society of Black Engineers.

Being one of a few African-American students on campus wasn't easy either. Not until his junior and senior years does he remember classmates becoming more "engaging," as if Scott had finally earned their respect. "I never experienced overt incidents of racism; it was all tension and pressure, and you deal with that by working to succeed and forming a support network to help with the bouts of insecurity."

"It was a real coming out, learning how to be a citizen of the world, which is very different than being a U.S. citizen leading a global organization."

-- Robert Scott --

Now that he has experienced success and some "crashing failures," too, he reaches out to help others. He's actively involved with MEPO, the Minority Engineering Program Office, and the Business School's Information Systems Executive Forum. He chairs the board of Cincinnati CyberVillage, a non-profit corporation he co-founded to narrow the digital divide, and he holds leadership positions with several other regional and national organizations.

How does he find the time? "Time? What a concept," he joked. "That's clearly the biggest challenge. You learn priority-setting but you just can't find enough," said the man who spends 60 to 70 percent of his traveling - Latin America last month, Europe this, Asia the next. "Every trip means time away from family and the office. Email piles up. You always pay the price, and in today's world, traveling is infinitely harder. But I wouldn't have it any other way."

Scott will turn 50 this year and has been reflecting on what's next. His work thus far has suited his "analytical, problem-solving mind" well, and he's always loved computers, including games - Civilization III and Quake - which he plays whenever he can.

"There's a second career out there somewhere. It's hazy, but I've enjoyed being a consultant and facilitator (for organizational efficiency training at P&G), so I think it includes teaching in some way."

He doesn't know exactly where he'll end up, but it'll be a far cry from where he started. "If you think of a kid who grew up in Kalamazoo in the 1950s, it blows me away to think of what I've been able to do and see."
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Kimberlee Roth is a freelance writer who has contributed to the Chicago Tribune, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Washington Post and the Gale Group E-Commerce Sourcebook (forthcoming).

- Michigan Engineer Fall/Winter 2002 (College of Engineering)