Dippin’ Dots CEO on complex deals, hot yoga and why he took on Spicer
Scott Fischer, CEO of Dippin’ Dots and Doc Popcorn
What was your upbringing like?
I grew up in Oklahoma City, and I was a pretty quiet kid.My mother was a schoolteacher. My dad was in oil and gas, a wildcatter, and I had one younger sibling. My dad’s degree was as an astronaut, but there was more money in the oil and gas business back then. I grew up around oil and gas wells, and coming out of college that was one of my first jobs as a petroleum land man. I got into business around my freshman year in undergrad and developed a love for dissecting numbers and looking at businesses and putting together the pieces of the puzzle. I have a really OCD personality. I like to know the business mechanics and know what I can control and not control.
Early leadership experiences?
I participated in traditional karate. It had a lot of discipline and it was very hard-core. Now I do hot yoga. I like it for not only the physical part but also for the mental and spiritual piece of it. It’s a great way for me to stay grounded and keep my mind clear.
Why did you bid for Dippin’ Dots, in 2012, which I should explain is made of cryogenically frozen ice cream beads?
I had a real estate business with my father, and I developed a strong passion for numbers and putting together complex deals. It was about around that time that I saw the bankruptcy of Dippin’ Dots in the Wall Street Journal. It got a lot of media attention. One thing I learned being a land man and putting the deals together, there’s a balancing of personalities and desires. You’re talking to several farmers or landowners in the oil and gas business, and everyone has something they want out of the deal.
It seemed to be an opportunity in a company that had very strong brand equity and was going through a difficult time because of financial stress. When companies go through a Section 363 of the bankruptcy code, they allow a stalking horse to come in. That process can be very advantageous to the bidder. It allowed me to come in and acquire just the assets I wanted, so I could choose the diamonds of the company.
What did you find when you bought it?
There was a lot of concern with the employees and franchisees. It was a company that was in dire financial stress. Coming out of bankruptcy they had very little cash. They were having a hard time keeping the lights on. So communication and transparency were very important. One of the main communication pieces was that we’re looking to grow the business, and be with the business for decades to come, and not looking for the quick flip.
Did it take a while to get people on your side?
Trust is something that has to be built. I was spending a lot of time working with the employees and looking at opportunities to grow the business, and listening to their ideas, and then creating initiatives for those specific activities. Every dollar we put in the company I made sure there were expectations for that dollar.
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How would you describe your leadership style?
I’m a pretty calm kid. I do feel comfortable with detail. I’ve always appreciated the servant leadership style. I’m only 38 so I have a lot to learn. One of the blessings at Dippin’ Dots, I came to a strong management team, with some really great people. The senior management team has no egos. Most of them are 50, 60 years old with a lot of wisdom. For me as a 38-year-old kid, I’ve learned.
Last year you famously invited Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary, to a Dippin’ Dots ice cream social. Why?
Dippin’ Dots is one of those really fun brands, which creates a good opportunity for attention, and the flip side is, it’s a fun one to make fun of. The brand equity is one of the reasons the media reacted to the bankruptcy—you know, the ice cream of the future no longer has a future.
To have Sean Spicer right after the elections say something negative, I think drew a lot of attention from the public. In those type of deals there’s always a hero and a villain. Dippin’ Dots was not necessarily the hero, but Sean Spicer was definitely the villain.
We wanted to respond in a way that wasn’t confrontational but fun, which was why I wrote the public letter to Sean Spicer, inviting him to an ice cream social, and as soon as that letter posted it snowballed. A fun response, to me, was too fun to pass up.