First Class Leader: Scott Durchslag
Raised with strong values by parents who never graduated high school, Scott Durchslag developed an ironclad work ethic early in life and counts Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Howard Schultz, and Steve Jobs among his heroes. And he has always chosen the road less traveled in pursuit of his professional and personal life quests.
“The most influential man in the world for me is my dad,” says Scott. “He is a very humble man who gave me the wonderful gifts of identity and self-esteem by not putting expectations on my shoulders. He gave me the freedom to follow my passions and the freedom to fail.”
But Scott obviously had his own internal yearning for knowledge. “I’ve been very lucky. As a really young kid, I got obsessed with biographies,” he says. “I made it my business to read as many as possible to gain an understanding of the great leaders who shape things in the face of natural forces. It inculcated a notion to me that picking wisely the people you admire and want to be like is the way
to make decisions.”
This one nugget of insight has guided Scott’s decision-making path ever since. “I could see the greatness in these people, but also their humanity,” he adds.
“Then, I stumbled by dumb luck into competitive debate,” says Scott. He was on the top team at Glenbrook South High School, traveling around the country to compete in major tournaments at schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Northwestern.
“I was exposed to a different world, and it gave me a window into some of the best minds and experts in the country,” he explains. “I wanted to win, but that meant I had to work incredibly hard. I practically lived in the law library during high school, gathering evidence and developing a strong work ethic.”
As an undergraduate at University of Chicago, Scott designed his own unconventional area of study. “My degree is in interdisciplinary political science, history, and literature,” he explains. “It allowed me to work with several different Nobel Prize winners, then at U of C, including Saul Bellow, Alan Bloom, Joseph Cropsey, and Leon Kass. I wanted to understand how the history of a period of time affects the politics of that era, and how that is, in turn, reflected in the literature of that period.”
Scott may call it luck, but it has always been his keen ability, starting at a young age, to accurately identify the people he wanted to emulate and make consistent strides in aligning himself with those people throughout his academic and professional careers. After college, Scott passed up job opportunities that most young graduates only dream of, and seized upon others where he would meet and learn from such people.
“I joined the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton and got to work with hardcore rigorous strategists and amazing minds in business. We did the first privatizations in China in 1989, before all of the reforms. I was promoted three levels and managing the project because I was the only one willing to go and live there for a year,” he laughs. “I loved my amazingly interesting walk to work every day.”
Scott brought his experience and his dreams back to Harvard Business School, just before Tiananmen Square in 1989. Toward the end of his studies at Harvard, he won a fellowship in Japan with Mitsubishi that exposed him to the elite Japanese business world.
With a Harvard MBA in his pocket, Scott was being courted by Booze Allen, McKinsey, Bain & Company, and some other capital venture firms, and struggled with how to choose the right firm for him.
“I went back to what I had learned about aligning myself with the people I wanted to emulate,” he says. “I looked at the leaders of these companies and asked myself, ‘Is he who I want to be like when I grow up?’”
He joined McKinsey. Even as a young consultant, Scott pushed for more opportunity, moving to the Greater China area for a period to work with the top 20 “Who’s Who.” When Scott left McKinsey in 2000, he was the firm’s youngest elected partner.
After a nine-month “extraordinary” hiatus that included time with the Dali Lama and hiking across the Himalayas, Scott went to Silicon Valley before the bubble burst.
“Then, Motorola found me in 2002,” says Scott, “Nokia had taken away most of their market share, and it was my job to figure out a turnaround strategy.” It was also an opportunity for Scott to return home to the North Shore, where he purchased the house he still lives in with his family on Lake Michigan in Lake Bluff, when he’s not in Seattle with Expedia.
He was instrumental in helping Motorola double their market share from 11 to 22 percent in the mobile devices business, went to Skype in London and Luxembourg, and was then recruited by eBay to scale it up and possibly put it public. During Scott’s time there, they grew from a $400 million company to almost a billion dollars when he left—to join Expedia.
“Expedia invented online travel,” says Scott. “They democratized travel by letting people shop comparatively. Expedia touches people’s lives in an incredibly powerful way.”
But Scott joined the largest online travel company worldwide with a huge goal, to take Expedia from Web 2.0, which is about searching and organizing information so that people can access it, to Web 3.0, which is about bringing that information and experience to the user.
The strategy, Expedia Everywhere, is a series of transformational mobile initiatives rolling out over the course of this year that will deliver highly personalized travel services. The goal is to redefine Expedia’s role so that it becomes a trusted travel partner rather than simply a booking engine.
Free Expedia apps such as TripAssist and Expedia Hotels allow users to shop and make travel arrangements directly from their iPhone or Blackberry to book flights, hotels, car rentals, and activities in the new mobile website, and view and update their travel plans from anywhere.
“In just three clicks, you can be booked into a hotel for that night with Expedia Hotels,” says Scott, and it will be the best deal because Expedia uses its clout to negotiate prices up to the last minute. If a flight is cancelled, TripAssist alerts travelers and gives them the best three booking options that they can select from immediately. No frustrating waits in line or on the telephone.
While Expedia’s headquarters are in Seattle, Scott chooses to make Lake Bluff his full-time home with his 3-year old son Lincoln and 6-year old daughter Madison. “I define myself first as a father, and time with my children is most important,” he says. “This is an amazing place, and I like the stability here. I take my kids to Sweets for ice cream, stop by Caputo’s for cheese, and have the Lantern’s fried chicken. During warmer months, we hit the beach, Artisan Park, and the farmers market.”
“I’ve been very privileged to be shaped by these organizations,” says Scott. “I won the lottery when I was born into this era and this area.”