John Scarcella's long, fruitful career with Sony began with a bad commute. Now president of Sony Broadcast and Professional Division, he was a consultant to accounting firm Peat Marwick Mitchell 19 years ago when a fire shut down New York's Grand Central Terminal, and he and other dedicated commuters rode to work on school buses.
His persistence paid off. That day, he received a call from a recruiter for a post heading up a new government sales division at Sony. Scarcella expressed interest and promptly received his next transport challenge: visiting Sony's New Jersey-based headquarters. That meant crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge on the Friday of Labor Day weekend.
The effort was worth it—for Scarcella and for Sony.
During his career, Scarcella has not only launched the government sales division but played a key role in the company's ascendancy in the JumboTron screen market. He followed his JumboTron success by setting up a corporate-accounts business to deal with Fortune 500 companies and creating a national sales organization that deals specifically with high-level executives at the top broadcast networks.
"I like creating," he says, "whether it is taking an established division and doing something a little bit differently or starting from scratch."
His career trajectory at Sony belies his importance to the organization: When the company saw a potential problem, it shifted Scarcella to the trouble spot, and he worked diligently to resolve the situation. The JumboTron division is a perfect example.
In 1989, the division lost a great deal of money, so Scarcella implemented the same strategy he employed in the government division.
"The key," he explains, "was not doing what the competition was doing."
At the time, Mitsubishi was the market leader, thanks to a six-year head start in product development. Scarcella, though, saw that Sony could offer a more complete system.
As a result, he not only sold JumboTron screens but also provided the TV sets for the arenas and stadiums. And he provided the control-room gear needed to make the monster screens a top-of-the-line viewing experience.
"We would also finance the entire package," he says. "It worked as a business." Today, Sony controls 85% of the arena and stadium video-system market.
Scarcella started his career in Westchester County, N.Y., as assistant budget director. His job was to devise progressive ways of financing long-term capital projects so the tax burden wouldn't hit entirely in one year.
That experience proved invaluable. It taught him to approach business from different angles. "On the government side, it's how to control costs. In the private sector, it's how do you make money," he says. "In both, you try to be as efficient as you can."
And both public and private sectors require Scarcella's mantra: Think strategically (and long-term) but act tactically (in the short term). This philosophy, he believes, satisfies shareholders but also fulfills the organization's business plan. "Today's environment requires a balance," he says.
A second key to his success is his colleagues. A stint running the consumer division's Northeast operation introduced Scarcella to talented people he recruited to the professional side of the company.
"I let them run the show and get into the details," he says. "No one gets fired for a bad idea. I need ideas."
His charge to staffers? "Be as creative as you can."