By: Adam Whit, @FOSAdam
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Donte Scott, EVP and Chief Insights Officer for Turnkey Intelligence. As a former Sports Business Journal 40 Under 40 Award Recipient, Donte went from student athlete at the University of Michigan to respected sports business professional. Fresh off his move to Turnkey, Donte was kind enough to sit down with us to discuss the future of analytics, the importance of curiosity in career development and why developing unique skills are key when breaking into the industry.
You started out as an Operations Assistant for the 2000 Ford Senior Players Championship. Fifteen years later, you find yourself as a former SBJ 40 under 40 winner and as an EVP for Turnkey. What has that journey been like for you?
"The journey has been an absolute thrill to say the least. When I was working for the PGA TOUR, that was my first interaction with the business side of sports, and from there it has become a never-ending process of developing skills and gaining experience. I have enjoyed the ride and every stop that I have taken on my path to where I am. I will always treasure the first hand experience I have had with companies such as Anheuser Busch, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and Major League Baseball."
As a former student athlete, you didn’t allow that to be an excuse as to why you couldn’t be successful after your playing days were over. What are some important lessons you learned from being a student athlete and what advice would you give student athletes today?
"One thing that I learned along the way is how important the notion of reinvention is to not only your playing career, but your career off the court as well. It is not just knowing where you want to go, it is knowing how to proceed, how to stand out and how to excel. As athletes, we do this naturally with our sports, but for those students who may not get the chance to play at the next level, knowing how to do this is critical."
"I was lucky enough to have great mentors in Brad Brady and Carol Overley on the faculty at Michigan. They recognized early on that I had potential to make a career out of this industry; they made sure I knew not to get caught up in being a student athlete and that I was out exploring and creating opportunities for myself."
You touched on the importance of having skills; what are some of the most relevant skills to have today, and what skills did you look to create for yourself while you were in school?
"Getting into the industry of sponsorship research and analytics back then was somewhat difficult as there was no direct line, but I learned a lot throughout the process and my journey. One of the biggest takeaways I had was that you have to have a set of skills that separates you from another person. You are always going to run up against people who are just as smart as you and are willing to work just as hard as you."
"The thing that differentiates you is your skills and what you bring to the table. For me, I was able to use my knowledge in math and statistics to stand out above the crowd. One of the things that really drove me was my curiosity and the desire to seek out challenges and experiences that quenched that curiosity."
We talked a little bit about your 40 Under 40 Award. What was that moment like for you when you found out that you had won? Did you ever expect to be in that position?
"I never expected to be in that position and my response at the time was both of shock and elation. I was shocked after looking at the people who had won it before me and the number of sports icons who had the pleasure of accepting that honor; I didn’t believe I belonged in that realm. The other shocking part was the fact that I had come from the business research side and because of the nature of the industry and the confidentiality behind it, to breakthrough as a researcher was a shock."
You have a wife and four children and yet are still a very successful sports business professional. Many students today think they must sacrifice family life to be successful. Can you touch on why they don’t have to make the sacrifice and what you have done over time to make sure there is a balance between work and life?
"I lucked into having a talented, smart and just all-around great wife who is probably more talented and more qualified to be a top executive in a marketplace than I am. Six months after our oldest was born, she made the decision that raising our kids was her calling and because of that, I had the luxury to really pursue all the professional opportunities that have been presented in front of me and truly focus on the success on my career."
"She is such a strong and independent person who truly has made a world of difference not only in my life, but my career as well. Even with her parenting full time, I still attend as many of my kids’ events as I can, and since they are now all older, it feels like that when I am not working I am either at a sporting event or in a car headed to a sporting event."
You have been heralded for your pioneering use of research and analytics in sponsorship and advertising. What are some of them new trends you are looking at and what do you see as the future for analytics?
"There are a few things that I am looking at, especially on the communication side and how fast everything is changing. The way people communicate nowadays makes it difficult to get a reliable sample; because of this, as an industry we are taking a really close look at new passive ways to collect data and understand the consumers and the fans."
"Another trend I am watching out for is “small data” and while this may seem contradictory to the “big data” craze that is going on, it is important because you have to take your knowledge of what you can do with big data and be able to apply that to smaller segments such as your season ticket holders for sports and entertainment properties."
You were once a college student sitting in the same seat many of those who will be watching this today are in. What did it take to get from there to where you are today? What are your greatest words of advice for aspiring sports business students?
"Again, you have to make sure you can reinvent yourself; you must establish skill sets that are “off the beaten path” and be curious. Curiosity will drive you to develop skills and gain experience- let it. If you have determination and curiosity, you will learn the skills that you need to have."
"If you work hard and put your best foot forward, you are putting yourself in position to succeed."
What has been the most interesting interview question you have been asked? What is your favorite one to ask prospective candidates?
“I really enjoy asking questions about candidates’ experiences that are typically in areas that I don’t have the strongest knowledge of. One of my favorite questions from that point of view is to ask, “Can you teach me something new that you have learned from during your career and how do you think those skills and expertise can be applied to our business?”
"For me, when I am being interviewed, I love the questions that ask me about the unique things that I bring to an organization because I love having those light bulb moments after the fact where I think “Man, why didn’t I think of that?”
We would like to thank Donte for his time and insights and we wish him all the best in his new position!
This interview is another edition of "Winning Edge Wednesday" in congruence with our partnership with the Winning Edge Leadership Academy. Every Wednesday we will be featuring the story of a woman or minority working in the sports business industry.If you know of a professional you would like featured, drop us a line at email@example.com.