How weConnect’s CEO Scott Smoler Accelerated His Career and Is Changing the Industry
Scott trudged through knee-high snow on a sharp incline up the Sadogashima mountains of Japan. The thump thump thump of taiko drums in the distance lured him as he wiped the sweat off his brow and pushed his way through the final stretch to his destination.
Scott was ready. After graduating Colgate University in the United States, he flew to Japan to battle through an epic 2-day tryout for the famous Kodo taiko drumming group as the only foreign candidate.
He didn’t get in.
“It was a really great experience. I thought about trying out again the following year, but then I realized yeah…maybe this isn’t the path I’m meant for!” Scott laughs.
Scott loved Japan. At University he had majored in economics and minored in Japanese, and he had even studied abroad in Kyoto for a semester. If there was one thing he knew for sure it’s that he wanted to stay in Japan and he decided to pursue a career in business.
But how was he going to make it happen as a fresh graduate halfway around the world from anything familiar? He got an internship at a Japanese CPA firm, brought his Japanese skills up to fluency, immersed himself in the culture and spent all of his spare time networking like crazy.
All of his efforts finally paid off when he got a job offer to work for a business consulting and back-office outsourcing firm in Tokyo that specialized in helping foreign companies enter the market.
Getting the job made him feel like he had stumbled upon a precious gemstone after years of digging. The tribulations of being a young foreigner with non-native Japanese skills and limited work experience had made Scott question whether having a serious career path in Japan was possible. So when the opportunity came, he was ready to give it his all.
For Scott, stepping into his new role was like stepping into a new world. The firm he entered enabled employees to take an entrepreneurial approach to work, and within a month he was already leading a major project.
“I remember thinking how in just two weeks [of working on that project], I had done more work than I had in probably my entire senior year at college,” Scott said.
That might sound intense – and it was – but it fueled him. It was like giving a budding racer the keys to a Ferarri – Scott’s energy was reignited and he found a passion for improving business processes.
It was the first time that working felt real to Scott. Everything beforehand – school, studying, part-time jobs – had felt artificial. It excited him to search for the fundamental truths of problems and to create meaningful solutions for stakeholders that truly cared. He learned that being accountable to other people drove him to deliver.
“At school, I’d write a term paper, get a grade, and then it would go in the trash. But at this company, my work truly mattered to people, and that feeling was and remains extremely important to me,” Scott reasoned.
In the early days of Scott’s time at the company, there was a high employee turnover rate because of its “sink or swim” culture and chaotic environment. Scott decided that if he was going to stick around that he would need to take personal ownership to improve the situation and not just sit back and wait for someone else to take care of it. This meant taking on the company’s goals as his personal goals.
He naturally wanted to be the person to solve the fundamental problems that were holding the company back from being the best it could be. And it was this attitude that accelerated Scott’s career in the accounting and payroll services industry.
Here’s an example: when Scott first got involved in the accounting division, he noticed that employees were managing all of the bookkeeping in Excel in their own way and then uploading the data to the accounting software. The process was disorganized, inefficient and prone to mistakes. This led to problems for the clients, stress for the team and prevented the business from scaling. Scott knew there was a better way. He spent his personal time learning how to program and developed an application to streamline the bookkeeping work. After rigorous testing the application was ultimately adopted firm-wide by over 40 accountants and to this day is still in use and referred to as “Scott’s Tool.”
“I was never looking to get promoted for the sake of getting promoted. I always wanted what was best for the goal the company was trying to achieve, and because I proactively took interest in all areas of the business and consistently delivered results, as a natural byproduct I rose up quickly through the organization,” Scott said.
The Ferrari analogy is no joke; Scott seriously hit the gas pedal. Within one year of joining, he was leading the sales department. A year later, he was leading the entire consulting division along with sales. Another year later, Scott became a Director adding on the accounting, payroll and corporate services divisions to his responsibilities. And 3 years after that, he became COO running the entire business and the only direct report up to the President.
One of the most significant discoveries for Scott during his time in improving the company was that creating a brighter future meant selecting the right people for the job. Aside from solving problems, he grew to have a knack for identifying people’s strengths and applying them to growing a business. This skill allowed him to hire and retain exceptional talent who were aligned with his vision as the business expanded.
After ten years in the accounting and payroll services industry and focusing on achieving the company’s goals, Scott had a realization that he wanted to go to the next level, to transform and innovate the industry as a whole. And the only way he could do that was to create an organization from the ground up with the right people based on innovative principles.
It was time for Scott to take his passion to new heights. Joined by a number of his colleagues, together they dove right into starting weConnect.
“I ask myself constantly about what kind of organization we need to have in order to innovate the industry. Starting weConnect has been exciting because it’s great to leverage our combined 100+ years of experience and start building from a blank canvas,” Scott reflected. “Everything that goes into how we structure the organization is based on our goals of innovation and creating a ‘Triple Win’: happy clients, happy employees, and a healthy business.”
And if there’s one thing Scott has learned from both his own experience and in working with others, it’s that people are most productive when they enjoy what they’re doing. “That’s where motivation and inspiration comes from. And we all have the opportunity now with the weConnect platform to do what we enjoy which has been critical to the success of the business.” Scott said.
Scott’s ability to select the right people and to solve problems laid the groundwork for the start of weConnect and the evolution of the industry. Within just two years, weConnect grew to have over 100 staff across Asia.
“Right now, weConnect has grown to be a leading provider of accounting and payroll services in Asia. Our ultimate goal is to become the #1 global provider and give companies consistent, amazing solutions and experiences no matter where their offices are located.” Scott said. “It’s a monumental effort and we want to do it right, but we’re laser-focused and in it for the long haul.”
Scott might not have made it into the Kodo taiko group when he first arrived in Japan. But there’s no doubt he’s created a successful organization that marches to the beat of its own drum.
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