INSIDE THE DEN: Scott Burns ’93

Each month leading up to BMA’s 50th anniversary celebration, we present to you a fellow academy alumnus/alumna. Join us as we look “Inside the Den”, learn about how the academy has evolved over time, and gain new insight on how the school shaped these Burkie Bears’ lives in ski racing and in life.

Since its inception in 1970, the academy has been home to 1,178 students, including 36 who have gone on to compete in the Olympics and 145 who have been members of national teams representing the USA, Australia, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Great Britain, Japan, South Korea, and Spain. Above and beyond the athletic success of its alumni, BMA has always embraced a progressive educational model that focuses on engendering creativity, curiosity, and problem-solving in all of its graduates. 

This month, we present you Scott Burns. Scott graduated from BMA in 1993. He skied for Dartmouth his freshman year and then left skiing to focus on his studies. He graduated with a degree in Economics and Environmental Studies and then worked at McKinsey and Company consulting and later in a software startup before co-founding GovDelivery with another Burke Alum, Zach Stabenow (PG ’93). GovDelivery provided a digital communications platform for government in the U.S. and Europe and grew to 250 people before it was sold in 2016. Scott is now the CEO and co-founder of Structural which is an all-in-one people directory that empowers people and teams within large organizations. In 2015, he received the HERBIE Award for community service named after St. Paul legend and Olympic Hockey coach, Herb Brooks. He was recently named one of the most admired CEOs in the Twin Cities by the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal. 

Why did you choose to attend BMA?

My number one priority at the time was to make the U.S. Ski Team and the Olympics. My brother had left Minnesota for Burke and made the U.S. Ski Team, and I went to Burke in the hopes of following the same path. 

What were your ski racing aspirations when you arrived at BMA and how did those evolve over your time at the academy?

My aspirations when I arrived were to be the best. I trained hard over the summer and felt ready. BMA exposed me to the dreams and determination of others. It was motivating and humbling.

What memories stand out the most from your Burke days?

Many of the most important friendships of my life were formed at Burke. I love hard-working, interesting, and passionate people, and BMA was filled with them. Whether it was playing cards, chasing someone on a morning run, or suffering through a rainy day turned to below freezing, I loved my fellow Burkies and the staff.

Did you have a favorite workout or tradition at BMA?

I really enjoyed sleeping outside on the soccer field and I loved the GMR. I also remember morning runs which were magical because they kicked the day off right. I’m still not a morning person, but I loved how I felt for the day after a great morning run, and I still do.

Is there a memorable academic experience from your time at BMA?

So many. I was in 10th grade chemistry with Bill McGrath. I was in 11th grade having arrived at Burke that year after my classmates had taken chemistry. I did okay on a test that I hadn’t studied much for and Bill called me out. He asked me if doing well on something that I wasn’t prepared for felt right to me. “I don’t know what your best is, but this wasn’t it,” Bill said, as he handed the test back. I studied hard for every test for the rest of the year and have remembered that simple lesson of setting your own standards for all of these years. I miss Bill and remember him so well as a great teacher and a joyful mentor. Tom De Carlo’s high expectations of us all as writers is another great memory. He did an amazing job of getting us to focus for class. Finally, Lynn Fryberger courageously teaching six months of AP Calculus in the short spring as an experiment to see if we could make it work gave us confidence in ourselves heading off to college.

How do you think your academy peers and BMA staff remember you from when you were a student? How have you changed or remained the same since then?

I discovered at BMA that I had more potential as a student than as an athlete, and I bet that was noticeable. I was serious about most things so I hope I am remembered for working hard, truly enjoying the company of my classmates, and at least trying to make people laugh. I don’t think I’ve changed much. I like other people even more now than I did back then. 

Where did you attend university or college and what did you study?

I majored in Economics and Environmental Studies at Dartmouth. After leaving the college ski team, I had time to study abroad in France and Kenya as well as take time to work in both New York City and Washington, DC. 

How did BMA help to shape your preparation for college?

BMA reinforced for me the independence and accountability that ski racing had already cultivated. The time management skills learned combined with the quality of teaching left me well-prepared not just for the courses, but for seeking help from professors when I needed it. 

What was your professional journey after graduating from college?

I wanted to work in politics but all the candidates I worked for lost so I applied to work at McKinsey Consulting and got a job in Minneapolis. Moving back to Minnesota was meant to be temporary, but it ended up being a good fit after growing up further North in Duluth, Minnesota. My brother (6 years older but also a Burke grad) was there and my roommate was Zach Stabenow a PG from Burke. My best friend when I moved home was Joe Kastner, a BMA classmate who now lives in California. Zach kept encouraging me to think about starting a business with him. When we ultimately did it (after a 1 year stint in Boulder surrounded by even more Burkies), it changed my life forever. Zach’s been a friend and an inspiration professionally and really since much earlier as he was winning races a few years ahead of me in Minnesota when I was 10 years old.

What field of work are you involved in now?

I’m a tech entrepreneur so after growing GovDelivery, which I started with Zach in 2000 and grew to 250 people before selling, I went back to launching a new company pretty quickly. Ski racing gave me a taste for competition, uncertainty, and just doing hard things. I like being an entrepreneur because it feels like I have to wake up in the morning and help make something happen. What’s different is that work now is a completely team sport so I’ve had to build out some empathy and leadership skills that I didn’t nurture as much as a ski racer. For me, the challenge is staying fresh and in the moment even after a 20+ year career. I keep it interesting by making sure I’m working on new types of challenges with people of different ages and backgrounds.

How has BMA impacted you and what key learnings from your time at the academy have followed you in your adult life?

So many of the things that I enjoy most about life including good friends, being active, competition, and skiing were brought into my life or reinforced at BMA. You make the best friends when you are experiencing opportunities and challenges together, and that’s what we did at BMA. Those habits, memories, and relationships have been the backbone of my life. 

What other personal projects and passions keep you busy now?

I’ve tried to stay involved in politics and civic projects. Most recently, I helped orchestrate taking the old headquarters of Ecolab (one of two Fortune 500 companies in St. Paul) and turning it into an innovation space for growing companies called Osborn 370 (see www.Osborn370.com). I’ve worked on improving our local libraries and supporting a jobs initiative for the past two Mayors. I’m also on the board of the Minneapolis Star Tribune which is our main local newspaper in the Twin Cities. My grandma was a journalist and I value local media so I’m enjoying supporting the Star Tribune. Wherever I can give back to this city that has been good to me, I try to do it, but my real passion is just trying to be a great dad and enjoy the time with my kids before they leave home. That means a lot of time on snow, mountain biking, and just hanging out with the kids.

What is your current relationship to skiing? 

I vowed never again to downhill ski in the Midwest when I moved back so I was enjoying skate skiing until my oldest turned two. Now, I have all three of my kids alpine skiing and my two boys (13 & 10) are both serious about racing. My daughter (also 10) loved skiing but didn’t like the cold so that didn’t work out. I help with the local program and am active as an official and race organizer which is a fun way to give back. I try to help reinforce the coaching for the boys. They usually prefer that I just tune and drive. It’s been incredibly fun getting back into the sport, and my oldest even had a chance to try out BMA holiday camp last year! I love the sport now more than ever, and I truly appreciate the character it builds and the lessons it teaches to young people.

How are you navigating through the new reality of COVID-19? 

I’m exercising a ton and enjoying my family. Like a lot of former ski racers, I have a comfortable relationship with uncertainty so this is not as stressful for me as it is for many people. I worry about my community and my parents, but I’m enjoying the opportunity to slow down a little bit, run and bike a more, and spend less time traveling. My 13 year old is starting to beat me on mountain bike rides, so I just upgraded my bike. Hoping that makes the difference!

Do you plan to attend the 50th? If yes, what do you most look forward to?

I had a reservation to attend this year until the pandemic set in. I do hope to be there to breathe the Vermont air, do some hiking, and catch up with old friends. Many of the BMA classmates and staff that I don’t see or hear from often are people I really look forward to seeing. 

Final parting comments you’d like to share?

It is exciting and promising to see the amazing staff including so many talented alumni leading the charge at BMA now. I feel that the values and mission of the school are stronger than ever.