On a mountain-climbing expedition, Scott DeRue ’99 and his team traversed a yawning crevice by laying an ordinary ladder over the divide and crawling across. Midway through, he took a picture looking down into the abyss, which was littered with dozens of similar ladders, presumably from less successful attempts, underscoring the importance of teamwork and leadership to accomplish incredible goals.
“The group dynamic of mountain climbing is fascinating,” he said. “You’re coming together with people you don’t know in a high-risk environment. You want to achieve this extraordinary thing, and you have to work together to do it.”
Now dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, Scott is so convinced of the benefits of such an intense team-building experience that he took 30 Ross students with him in August to scale Mount Kilimanjaro.
In his own life, Scott climbs some form of a mountain every day, says one of his colleagues. He exudes an unwavering positive attitude and energy. As dean, he usually hits Diamond Club status in airline miles by March every year by traveling the globe to connect with alumni, their businesses and organizations that might be of interest to Michigan Ross students. When he’s home, he often runs to and from work.
Scott grew up in small towns in North Carolina, graduating high school in Wallburg, a one-stoplight town in the Piedmont that made the map just a few years ago. For college, he applied to one school and one school only — and fortunately Carolina said “yes.”
UNC exposed Scott to people, ideas and opportunities that changed his world. He experienced the cultural diversity of students and faculty on campus and different ways of thinking and living. He got the chance to travel overseas. He developed a fascination with the power of ideas and vowed to make a career that was meaningful and had impact.
Scott began his business career in private equity and management consulting, but he soon realized that he would have the most impact at the intersection of business and education. He turned away from the potential to earn impressive wealth and instead pursued a doctorate in business.
In choosing a graduate school, many people consider what they’re good at and double down. Scott assessed where he needed to build strength — research skills and quantitative analyses — and selected Michigan State, renowned in those areas.
Scott put his career on a compressed timeline — he won a dissertation award and an early career award and was assistant editor of one of the top journals in the field. He showed resilience and mental toughness by persevering to publish extensively in a field whose journals reject 95 percent of submissions. He served on search committees to recruit outstanding students and faculty, and he received tenure in remarkably short order. He dramatically improved Michigan Ross’ executive education program when he headed it.
Business students are drawn to Scott because he’s already done what they want to do. They see themselves as risk takers and as embracing life, and they recognize those traits in him. He has unbounded confidence, backed by action, all without arrogance. As one colleague put it: It’s not cockiness if you’re good.
Scott inspires colleagues to raise their game to his high level. He believes that a good team will always come up with something better than individuals.
He has a strong commitment to his students. As dean of a school that has many international students on campus and many American students abroad, he had to write a response to the community about the recently enacted travel ban. He responded with action, not emotion, crafting a measured piece that addressed the university’s plan for taking care of its students without delving into whether the controversial decree was consistent with the values of the school.
“There were so many ways to get that wrong,” one of his friends marveled, “but he did it so perfectly right.”
Which is what you want from a colleague when you are climbing Mount Everest with him, for instance. Scott summited Everest, giving credit to the mountain for “allowing us to experience the top of the world.”
Scott has visited six of the seven continents and will check off the final one in December when he goes cross-country skiing in Antarctica to the South Pole. With a team, working together, to achieve something extraordinary.