From intern to CEO: Interview with Jama CEO Scott Roth

Scott Roth

Why The School of Business at Portland State? What was the differentiator for you?

Location was the big thing. I grew up in the Midwest. I worked in sales for a few years after my marketing undergrad, and I wanted to get my MBA to change my career trajectory. I had some relatives out here, and I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. I wanted to do my MBA where I ultimately wanted to live. I was offered a graduate assistantship at Portland State, I love Portland, and I knew the MBA program was strong, so it made perfect sense.

How did your experience in the program compare to your expectations?

The reason I wanted to get an MBA was because I was successful in sales, but that was very much a one-to-one impact going from one company to the next making deals. I wanted to have a one-to-many impact. I wanted to ultimately go into leadership and have a broader influence on the companies that I worked for. I knew the MBA was going to be a critical component to achieving that goal. I knew if I wanted to branch out of sales into marketing and management, the MBA was the catalyst to do that. My expectation was that the program would deliver the experiences and knowledge that I would need to up my game, so you could definitely say it met my expectations. It’s honestly one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I got an internship at Webtrends, a local software company here in Portland, the summer between my two years at school. Things went really well in the internship, so they kept me on as a contractor working on a product launch during the second year of the program. Then they hired me right away. If I hadn’t been in the MBA program and gotten the internship, that never would have happened. In 2003 the economy was horrendous and people were struggling to find jobs coming out of school. It was the connections I had at Portland State and the internship that got me into the real world.

 Scott Roth with a Jama employee

So you’ve told us about your career path — how planned was it?

For me, the career path has been very intentional. I credit my wife a lot for that. She is a very well-planned person. When we got married, we essentially documented what we wanted our careers to look like, and where we wanted to go. I’ve always been very competitive, so whatever field I went into, I was going to strive to be in the top of that field. Once I was in a business career, I knew I ultimately wanted to be a CEO. And I attached a timeline to that — I wanted to be a CEO by the time I was 40. Having that in mind allowed me to intentionally make some career choices, and turn down others, based on the skillset I knew I needed to build up to be a CEO.

Funny aside: there are probably around 10 employees at Jama now that worked for Webtrends when I was an intern. When I was announced as the new CEO, I wondered what they would think about their former intern taking over. It hasn’t been an issue at all, but it was a surreal experience to come full circle from intern to CEO in only 14 years.

Did the Portland MBA prepare you in any ways you didn’t anticipate?

I think the big thing I learned was the power of teamwork in the business setting. You spend so much time on projects with people you don’t really know, but you end up becoming great friends. Years later, I still have a small group of people I did projects with, and we get together just to hang out. That’s something I didn’t expect going into it but definitely took away from the program. I hear from others that they had the exact same experience. The camaraderie and network that you build is really cool.

What was your reaction to being named one of Portland Business Journal’s 40 under 40?

I just hope Jama gets a ton of publicity from it — that’s my main wish. If Jama can benefit from me making that list, that would be great. I was really honored to be a part of that group. My family and I have gone through a lot to make my career happen, so it meant a lot to all of us. The recognition validated that it’s all been worth it.

What advice do you have for current or prospective graduate business students who are interested in your field?

You are only going to get out of the program what you put into it. I have tons of respect for people who do the part-time program. I know it’s hard balancing your job and your family and the program. I personally did the full-time because I wanted to immerse myself in everything. For me, that meant I was able to put everything into it, and I got a lot out of it.

The other thing I would advise is to network like crazy while you’re there. Don’t be afraid to ask alumni to meet up for informational interviews. I personally would love to spend time with anybody if they reached out to me. I think there are a lot of alumni that would do that, but we just don’t get asked. Tap into the alumni network and get as many connections as you can.

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Kyle Huck has a background in graphic design and web-based marketing. He graduated from The Portland MBA in 2018.

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