Scott Digiammarino is the CEO and founder of MovieComm, an online AI-driven platform with legally approved, motivational movie clips that help today’s leaders lead and motivate.
Scott went through a very successful career as an executive at American Express, where he was continually recognized for his achievements in leadership. The transition from corporate to entrepreneur is not easy. Even for an employee, choosing startup vs corporate can be a life-changing decision. There are differences and Scott does a great job pointing them out.
Not only that he loves life and people, but he is a great storyteller too. That is why today’s episode should be entertaining and fun, besides inspirational.
Enjoy today’s podcast episode from Startup Stories, and let yourself be inspired.
You can listen to the full podcast or watch the video version below:
NOTE! The full interview and content are available only in audio or video form. The followings are snippets from the interview podcast that were edited for clarity and brevity.
Table of Contents
Tell us about your story at American Express
Scott Digiammarino: I’m from Boston originally, and I started at American Express in the late 80s. We were in the financial adviser division. We were in investments, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and financial planning for people.
I was building a practice where I had clients. And then, I got the leadership bug at a very young age. At the time, you could become a manager, and I became one. What I did as a manager was that I recruited people into the business, mostly college students.
We would train them, motivate them, and then hopefully help them build their business and practices so they become successful.
There were 800 districts around the country and 800 managers. Out of the 800 people, I was the number one guy in the country the way they ranked us for three years.
What happened next?
Scott Digiammarino: When that happens, they come after you to go to the next level which is a vice president job. I am 28-29 years old, and I wanted to stay in Boston. I didn’t want to leave. But then they offered me any place I want to go, so I said, ‘I only want to go to DC.”
I had family here. It was an easy flight back and forth to Boston if I wanted it; a lot of colleges. It was kind of my type of city.
But when I got there, the region that I took over was ranked 173rd out of 176. It was a disaster. People were not showing up at work, Cristina. They were negative, and you know me, I don’t like negative people.
We had compliance issues all over the place. It was just one of those I walked in, and I’m like, “What did I do?”
What ended up happening was in the middle of a turnaround situation, you have to paint this compelling vision. That’s the first thing you should do. So, we had 32 employees, and I walked in front of them, and I said,
“OK, guys. So here is where we’re going…” I painted this really exciting vision. I talked about where we are going if they jumped on the bus.
I said, “Look, you have a choice. We’re going to have this island with beautiful beaches or skiing over here if you want to. You don’t have to worry about the money. You have all the flexibility in the world if you follow our systems. If you choose not to follow our systems and get negative, grumpy, this is not the place for you anymore.”
In the first week, out of the 32 people, 18 quit, or we fired them. But that was OK with me at the time. What I wanted to do, was to recruit people into the organization that shared the same passion, vision, principles, and values that I had.
Long story short, in a one-year period, we went from number 173 to number 1, and we maintained that top ranking for over twenty years.
That’s awesome. What were the struggles you experienced then?
Scott: We were growing too fast. In six years, we went from one office to 207. W went from 32 employees to 1600, and from 3 leaders beneath me to over 100.
And because we were best in class, all of my peers around the country used to call me and say, “Can I come to visit you?”
They would come with their teams, spend a couple of weeks with us, and then go back to their respective cities, and magically they’ll always have a job opening for a vice president job, and magically they would always steal my top talent.
When did you discover that you are good at leadership?
Scott: It goes back to high school, to be honest with you. When I was a kid, I used to organize games in the backyard. I was the guy who always got people together. I was captain of my football team. I just loved to motivate people.
To your point earlier, I believe in people’s potential. The core of me is that I think that everybody in the world can be great. But I learned that it takes great leadership to help people tap into that potential.
How did others influence you?
Scott Digiammarino: I tell you about a coach that I had. Let me tell you a baseball analogy. In one spring we played eighteen games and we had a coach that was always negative.
He would yell at you and was negative all the time. I had the worse season of my life. I made all these errors, I didn’t hit well, and all that bad stuff was happening to me. It made me want to quit the sport that I was playing since I was five.
A month later after that season ended we played the called Summer League baseball. There I had a coach that was positive, upbeat, who was like, “Don’t worry about it. We got your back.” He was cheering you on the whole time.
We played three times as many games and I didn’t make one error the whole season. I quadrupled my batting average which is a good thing for those who follow people. In short, I was back to being happy.
What I’ve learned for me personally was that I like being with positive people. I stayed true to that until today.
How did you improve your leadership skills over time?
Scott: I think American Express is one of the best companies in the world, quite frankly. They were very much about leadership and leadership development. I learned so much from the people I reported back to.
I don’t know how many companies are like this. As the matter of fact, I heard stories about one of the first things companies cut is leadership. Here I grew up in an environment that thought that leadership mattered. They gave us everything they could so we could be the best.
Number two was that my boss’s boss when I was young used to have this thing called WDYWFY, and that stands for: What do you want for yourself?
It’s a meeting you have, a couple of times a year, with your employees where you say, “Hey, Cristina, tell me, what’s important to you? Tell me what you want for yourself personally? What do you want for yourself professionally? What do you want from a personal development standpoint?”
You would have this very light 1:1 conversation that is all about you. There was a way that we were taught to do this type of meeting. We believed that if people get what they want, personally, we would have their best efforts professionally. People have goals, and our mission, through this process, was to understand those goals.
The number one characteristic of a successful leader
Scott: You have to genuinely care about your people because if you don’t, they will see it. But if you do, people will trust you, and trust builds loyalty. Loyalty leads to best efforts, and that leads to bottom-line results.
It was a lonely experience, more at Facebook because I knew I was not staying there. You’re going to a job you know you’re not going to be a part of any of the teams in a long term.
The full interview and content are available only in audio or video form.
Cristina Imre – The Founder Coach That Takes Your Success to Heart!