Career in the Spotlight: Scott Cupit (48, Director of Swing Patrol)

ScottThis week I interviewed Scott, who went from a career in banking to running one of the largest swing dance schools.  Here he tells us what helped him to make that transition, why he will never take his work for granted, and how, despite his success he is still not that keen on the limelight.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

My uncle, my grandfather and my father are all very successful Baptist ministers.  Because I was the eldest son, I assumed I was going to be called to be a Baptist minister.  So much so that I even went and studied theology at a college in Melbourne.  But to go down that path you have to really feel a very different calling, and I just never got that calling.  I just assumed that it what I would be for years.

And what do you do now?

I run a Swing Patrol club.  It’s a specialised dance school.  We specialise in teaching lindy hop and our number one focus is teaching people how to swing dance.  We have a big community and I am the head of all that, so it’s just managing the big family I guess.

How did you get into running a dance school?

I was a career banker – I did a banking and finance degree and I was travelling around America and I saw this dance by chance.  I was already playing the saxophone in my church big band and so I just fell in love with this dance, and started little classes.  It was very small back in 1998 and I never expected it to become a big business, it just wasn’t on my radar.  It has been a great journey and it has just evolved from something that was a passion and hobby into something that I guess is one of the largest swing dance schools.

What helped you make that transition?

There is an extreme work ethic that is required if you are going to build something and make it happen.  And you have to be innovative.  Because in London you can be virtually invisible – it is just so hard to get noticed.  Finally in year 3 we went from 18 students to 900 students.  We called that our tipping point – we knew we had arrived.  It was a really big moment for us.

What qualities helped you to make this happen?

  • My wife says I choose my fights well. What she means is that a lot of people get stressed about a lot of things and we can beat ourselves up, especially when you are trying to build something, it can be very tough.  I am very relaxed about things, about work, and I will choose how to channel my energies well because there is only one of you driving it.
  • You have to be smart and have a strong self-belief.
  • You have to be very passionate.
  • I surround myself with inspiring people.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career?

There is no doubt that Swing Patrol and I myself have made a lot of mistakes, but sometimes that is the best way to learn.  We have wasted a lot of resources trying to find out what would work, but that is how you find out what is going to work.  So I think yeah, if I had a crystal ball I’d change things, but I really think the journey of a business is that you have just got to take some chances sometimes you know.

What does work mean to you?

I get that sense of satisfaction that I have pursued something I love, you know, and I turned my back on a lot of security and a lot of income.  Yet I have been blessed 10 times over.  I feel very fortunate and I don’t have a single regret.  It has been a wonderful adventure.   I never take it for granted.  7 years ago when I wound up in London and started here, I couldn’t pay the rent, I had 10 students on a night, I mean it was very tough in the early days.

How would you describe yourself?

I, like every human being, have every insecurity you can imagine.  I got so nervous when I went on Dragons Den and everyone said oh, you were so calm, but I knew the truth – I will never forget my back was dripping!  I think I have to put on an alter ego to be the person I need to be, to be the big head guy of Swing Patrol, but people don’t see the guy who wants to not have the limelight, and wants to sit and home and just catch his breath.  I think I’m like a big labrador – big, solid, loyal but not really the fastest.

Knowing what you know now about work / career, what advice would you give your teenage self?

My message is embrace it all – go and experience everything.  There is a whole world out there.  If we listed the top 10 experiences of our lives a lot of them would be travelling experiences.  Travel, see the world, take some risks and make sure you experience everything life has to offer.

How would you like to see your career when you look back at it when you are retired?

I hope there is a legacy that I have made a difference.  It is why I left banking.  Working in corporate banking, no matter how good I was or how hard I worked, it made no difference to the bottom line, I really felt I was just a little splash in an ocean.  Whereas running Swing Patrol I can make a direct and positive influence on people’s lives through giving them dancing, teaching, opportunities and a place to belong.  It’s a question I will ponder more!

You can find out more about Scott and his Swing Dance school on his website.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?  Has this article inspired you to think about where you are heading with your career?  Is there something you are really passionate about outside of work that you would love to find a way to get paid for?  Why not visit my website to find out more about career coaching and how I can help you.

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