Polaroid CEO dishes 'instant classic' career story

Scott Hardy dreamed of life as a doctor, but a discovery he made his sophomore year of college left him contemplating a different way forward.

After Shake Ups in the C-Suite, Polaroid Chief Made it Click

By Business Leaders FOXBusiness

As a young boy, Scott Hardy dreamed of a life toting around a bag full of medical tools, helping sick people make full recoveries and adding his name to the list of generations of Hardys before him who’d lived out their lives as doctors and medical professionals.

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There was just one problem.

He didn’t like hospitals. Not even the smell of them.

And he didn’t figure that out until his sophomore year of college.

So he scrapped the family dream and set his eyes on something entirely different: A career in the technology industry where he now works as CEO of Polaroid.

Nail in the Coffin

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From a young age, Hardy knew he’d one day end up wearing a white lab coat, either spending his days in the four walls of an operating room, or checking in on his patients, and filling out medical records and daily charts. After all, his uncle was a doctor, his grandfather had been a surgeon and he had many other family members, mentors and friends who’d worked in the medical profession. For Hardy, it was never a question where he’d end up when he grew up.

So, after graduating from high school, the most logical progression was to enroll in Brigham Young University’s pre-med program. Not long after, Hardy accepted an opportunity to complete a mission trip with his church, which, along with pursuing a career in medicine, was also a lifelong dream.

It’s easy to get stuck in an analysis paralysis. But getting things done is so critical… I’ve internalized that in how I run a company: It’s never acceptable to put in a half-hearted effort.

- Scott Hardy, Polaroid CEO

“I saw the benefit of what it did to people and how it changed them by going on those two-year trips,” he said. “You learn to deal with rejection, to forget yourself and serve other people.”

So, he packed his bags after just one year of college and at 19 he went to Taiwan for a two-year mission. But when he got there, he found himself feeling homesick and lost.

“The first week I didn’t dare do anything,” he said. “It took a lot of coaxing by my trainer from Japan. The only way we could communicate was with our Mandarin. His English was okay, but not great. I finally had to learn to just go out there and step outside my comfort zone and not be afraid to engage in uncomfortable situations,” he said.

Despite his frustration and homesickness that came with the first few weeks, through his time there, Hardy learned to live among the people, love the food, and become proficient at speaking the language.

But the pivotal, life-changing moment was not the heat, or the long days, or the incredible language barrier. It was one conversation that Hardy vividly remembers with a guy named Kent Watson, who at the time was a partner with PriceWaterHouseCoopers.

“When I told him I wanted to be a doctor, he said, ‘Why would you want to be a doctor and be around sick people?’” Hardy explained.

The conversation really stuck with him. Once he got back to school to finish up his pre-med program and move on to medical school, he came to the stunning realization it wasn’t a career he wanted to pursue.

“I visited a hospital thinking, ‘I don’t like the way hospitals smell,’ and it started to hit me. I took a cadaver lab and that was the final nail in the coffin,” he said. “I started my class working on dead bodies and I was totally grossed out and thought, ‘this is not what I want to do.’ It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks.”

Hardy said it was the second major change of his life, at 22 years old, when he just had to step back and decide what it was he really wanted to do.

“I had decided already to major in Mandarin so that I could have that differentiation among other med students, but at that point, I decided I wanted to stick with Chinese and then consider business or law.”

He went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Mandarin, and then to complete and MBA from the Marriott School at BYU.

Instant-Classic Success

Hardy came to Polaroid as senior vice president of the Polaroid Consumer Electronics product group in 2004. Before that, he’d held senior-level positions at Intel (INTC), and worked before that at Dell.

He said the thing that hooked him on a career in technology was an internship at the blue-chip chip maker, working in the Intel architecture labs on an initiative called “anywhere in the home.” The idea was an early version of the connected-home idea.

“We had to define this device, which was a screen you could carry around with you…it would probably have a seven to eight-inch screen, and you could have things running on it,” he said of the iPad-like device. “You couldn’t imagine it….and now you have it today. It’s my tablet, it’s my smartphone, it’s everywhere.”

Another project he worked on was an idea to try and pause live TV so the viewer could come back and watch their favorite shows at a later date or time. Despite the crazy looks he got from people at the time who couldn’t image why or how you’d pause your live TV, he said the experience was a fun one and helped him figure out he was really passionate about the industry.

Fast forward several years to 2009, and Hardy found himself working as president at Polaroid. It was a turbulent time for the company. The digital-camera and smartphone revolution was really taking its toll on the company. Twice between 2001 and 2009, Polaroid filed for bankruptcy and had blown through six chief executives.

 “(The bankruptcy process) was one of the hardest things I ever went through in my career because you’re navigating this legal space and you have all these employees looking to you to guide the ship,” he said. “I was fortunate at the time that I was working under another CEO who really focused on all the legal elements of getting into bankruptcy. My focus was on keeping the company going in the meantime, managing the day-to-day operations.”

Following bankruptcy and under new ownership, in 2012 the company was ready for something different. That’s when they turned to Hardy who had helped lead a transformation of the company, helping it redefine itself and its role in the landscape of 21st Century technology.

He said what he’s learned during his years at the helm of the company is to focus on the job at hand and stop worrying about the things beyond his control.  He said one of the best pieces of advice he ever received was from a middle-manager he worked for at Dell who told him the key to success is to always execute. And always deliver.

“It’s easy to get stuck in an analysis paralysis. But getting things done is so critical…it speaks to the idea that you have to deliver. I’ve internalized that in how I run a company: It’s never acceptable to put in a half-hearted effort,” he said.

And one important lesson goes all the way back to his early 20s, during that mission trip to Taiwan.

Hardy befriended a boy named Chad Lewis who had arrived on the island just a month or two before Hardy. And they hit it off immediately. From Lewis, Hardy learned the importance of attitude. He said he learned even when you’re going through hard times and doing difficult things, it’s important to maintain a positive outlook.

On a mission trip in Taiwan, Polaroid CEO Scott Hardy (third from left), pictured with friends including long-time friend, and former tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams.

“We used to read the old book, ‘The Greatest Salesman in the World,” Hardy said. “We’d read it together at night, yelling passages out the window. We learned about positive attitude together from that book.”

He said it was a pivotal moment for both of them because it taught them how to be a leader: Scott as a chief executive, and Lewis as an all-American tight-end football player who then went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles in a professional career.

“We learned that attitude determines altitude, meaning if you maintain a positive outlook, you’ll be able to do a much greater good and be more effective.”

It’s a lesson Hardy still draws on today and a friendship from a pivotal point in his life that he’s never forgotten and still maintains.

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