We are advocating for our members’ and all older Americans’ best interests as Congress and the Administration have debated and passed relief measures. We’ve helped ensure that Medicare covers their telehealth visits to their doctors, and to help residents, staff and family caregivers in nursing homes as the crisis has unfolded before us. And we’ve innovated — for example, building and launching AARP Community Connections, an online platform that helps people organize and find mutual aid groups, and access support from trained volunteers, both in English and Spanish.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Frisch, executive vice president and chief operating officer for AARP. He is responsible for all enterprise-wide operational and financial matters including human resources, information technology, real estate and facilities management as well as data and analytics performance management.
Since his appointment as COO, Scott has helped guide AARP through a period of dynamic change, reengineering the operational functions of the organization to maximize efficiencies and increase operating reserves. He established a $40 million investment fund that spurs innovation in health and wellness as well as a $60 million investment vehicle to accelerate research into cures for all types of dementia including Alzheimer’s. Scott oversaw the comprehensive renovation of AARP’s 500,000 square foot national office headquarters in Washington, DC to provide the latest in technology and environmentally-friendly and innovative workspace. He is widely respected at all levels of the organization for his acute business acumen and fiscal discipline.
Prior to his appointment as COO, Scott served as senior vice president and chief financial officer for AARP Services, Inc. (ASI), the for-profit subsidiary of AARP. He provided strategic guidance and expertise in all areas of ASI’s financial management. He had previously served as chief financial officer and treasurer at AARP Financial, Inc.
Prior to joining the AARP enterprise, Scott held a variety of management positions at Columbia Management Group, NATIXIS Asset Management Services, Inc., Putnam Investments and KPMG.
Scott graduated from Villanova University. He is a certified public accountant and previously held Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Series 6 and 63 licenses. Scott is a Board member on the Greater Washington Board of Trade, Treasurer and Chair of the Audit & Finance Committee of the Downtown DC Business Improvement Council and is on the Board of Advisors of CBC Financial, LLC. He sits on the Wall Street Journal CFO Network, the Executive Committee of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging Business Council, and is a Malcom Baldrige Executive Fellow. Scott is also a member of the Connected DMV COVID-19 Strategic Renewal Task Force, a collaboration of regional leaders focused on accelerating the economic and business recovery of the greater Washington area in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Scott! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After college, I began my career in public accounting, which led me eventually to the mutual fund sector. In the mid-2000s, AARP was considering creating a family of mutual funds — the AARP Funds — to help older Americans with their financial security and further the organization’s nonprofit mission. I was one of the early hires brought on to help bring that vision to life. At that point in my tenure at AARP, I was so focused on helping build the AARP Funds, I did not realize that the mission of AARP was one of the driving reasons why I was so energized! Fast forward to 2014 when I became AARP’s Chief Operating Officer, AARP’s purpose “to empower people to choose how they live as they age” remains that powerful forcethat makes getting up every morning for work so easy!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I am not sure I can categorize one story as the most interesting, as there are many; but there is one that stands out among AARP’s proudest moments. In late 2017, AARP’s CEO, Jo Ann Jenkins and I were discussing how to impact the number one concern of our members: maintaining brain health as they age. With that conversation, the concept of the AARP Brain Health Fund was born. Over the next 8 months, I led a very talented and committed team on a journey to find a way to impact the 6 million people in the US and some 48 million globally who are living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. We ultimately committed to a $60 million investment into the Dementia Discovery Fund, a UK-based venture capital fund that invests in, and creates, new biotech companies to deliver high-impact therapeutics for age-related dementia. While the solution to this dreaded disease may not be a reality for those who are suffering today, the prospect of helping future generations is an incredibly powerful and driving force for me.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early in my career, I was walking down one of the office hallways with a draft of a client contract in my hand. Now, I must admit, I do have a bit of a sweet tooth so when I passed by the kitchen area, I noticed a plate of desserts. I stopped in, grabbed one, ate it and then washed my hands and left. Little did I know that I had left the draft contract on the counter out in the open for anyone to see. I also had no idea at the time that the company president had also seen the plate of desserts and stopped by to pick one up just a few minutes after me. Imagine his surprise when he saw the draft contract on the counter. Well, as you would expect, I was informed of my mistake and vowed never to make that same mistake again. To this day, every time I drop something into the shredder, I remember that mistake like it happened yesterday (and I leave the desserts until after the task has been completed)!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
AARP is the nation’s largest non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as the age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial resilience and personal fulfillment. But COVID-19 has changed everything, and in these uncertain times, it’s clear that people need AARP more than ever. AARP, as a social mission organization, has stepped up to meet that need in a number of key ways. We are providing the latest unbiased information from the experts through our publications, newsletters, our website, Tele-Town Halls and other virtual events. We are advocating for our members’ and all older Americans’ best interests as Congress and the Administration have debated and passed relief measures. We’ve helped ensure that Medicare covers their telehealth visits to their doctors, and to help residents, staff and family caregivers in nursing homes as the crisis has unfolded before us. And we’ve innovated — for example, building and launching AARP Community Connections, an online platform that helps people organize and find mutual aid groups, and access support from trained volunteers, both in English and Spanish.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
AARP’s reach is so broad. However, one story really stands out for me. One of our charitable affiliates in Washington, DC, Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE), was able to immediately change the life of one person. For 20 years, Wanda Witter lived in shelters and on the streets of Washington, D.C. A social worker approached her, hoping to get safe housing for her. Wanda Witter told the social worker that the Social Security Administration (SSA) owed her tens of thousands of dollars, and there was documentation. Despite her living situation, Witter had saved and stuffed into suitcases decades worth of correspondence with the SSA.
The social worker called LCE, which provides free legal services to low-income Washington, D.C., residents 60 or older, preventing evictions and foreclosures and obtaining social security, veterans, and healthcare benefits, for its clients.
Witter walked into AARP headquarters with her files and, then, she says “my life changed forever.” A lawyer immediately agreed to investigate Witter’s case.
It turns out Witter had returned years of Social Security checks because she did not agree with the amount of the benefit. Eventually, she became homeless, and the Social Security Administration no longer had an address for her. She tried but was unable to navigate the system’s bureaucracy to get a solution.
The attorney quickly advocated for reinstatement of Witter’s benefits. Within days, she obtained a $999 emergency payment. Three months later, she received $100,000 in retroactive benefits. She was able to move off the streets into her own apartment.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
We all need to challenge the stereotypical beliefs and attitudes and create a new narrative around aging. People are living longer, working longer, and learning in new and different ways. All of us hope to have long, healthy lives, and long, meaningful careers. Some have said ageism is the last acceptable “ism,” or that somehow ageism gets a pass. That should be unacceptable because it casts older people as less worthy or as takers, not contributors. We should strive for a society that embraces aging, that celebrates intergenerational collaboration, and that sees all its members as equal, dignified, and worthy.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I once read somewhere that leadership is about creating an environment that inspires people to believe in something, and then — using the collective genius of the team — make that belief or idea become a reality. Now, I don’t recall where I read that or who wrote it, but it has always resonated with me. Leadership is about setting a vision, striving for change, and not settling for the status quo, For me, I come back to the founding of AARP. AARP was founded in 1958 by Dr Ethel Percy Andrus, a retired high school principal who found an impoverished former teacher living in a chicken coop. That teacher inspired her to seek dignity and security for all older people. 62 years later, AARP continues to impact millions of people every day.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Each year, I am asked to speak to our incoming class of interns and I usually get asked this exact question. I typically answer with the following:
- Be humble — you actually don’t know everything
- Work hard, every day, no matter what
- Be an advocate for yourself and your career, just don’t be arrogant about it
- Be part of the solution not the problem
- Be self-aware
I learned these “5 things” — or at least versions of them — prior to my first job. I was blessed to have parents who took an interest in my career and imparted these important life lessons early on. I’ve definitely benefitted from their collective wisdom and have found that these lessons can be applied to your professional and personal life.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement to improve civil discourse in our country, I would. With all of the societal challenges we’re currently facing, the ability to talk and listen to one another is perhaps more important than it’s ever been. What I’ve learned in my years of working on behalf of AARP’s mission “to empower people to choose how they live as they age,” is that there’s more that unites us than divides us and it’s imperative that we don’t let our differences keep us from working together to shape the future we want for ourselves and our loved ones.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The night before my now-adult daughter’s first day of kindergarten, she was a bundle of emotions. Excited for sure, but there was a sense of apprehension that was clearly bubbling to the surface. So, as we continued to talk about what to expect, I said “the fear of the unknown is always worse than reality”. Granted, I had to explain that statement in terms that she could understand, but somehow it stuck. Little did I know then, that I would repeat that statement to both of my daughters incessantly throughout their young years, as they embarked on the journey toward adulthood. Ironically, I find that all these years later, I am often reminding myself of the same statement as I tackle new challenges both personally and professionally.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
There are so many choices, but I keep coming back to Bobby Orr. Growing up outside of Boston in the 1970s, as an aspiring future National Hockey League player (without the talent, unfortunately), I was in awe of Bobby Orr — who at that time played for my hometown team, the Boston Bruins. I even played the same position as he did. Some consider him to the greatest player to play in the National Hockey League. At a minimum, he revolutionized the game with a combination of offensive flair and defensive prowess. Years later I came to admire him more than just for his skill on the ice. Stories that I have read about him speak to his kindness to fellow human beings, the generosity of his time to lend a helping hand to anyone, and his continued humility, well beyond his playing years — all of which continue to impress me. With respect to leadership, his days leading the Boston Bruins as not only the team’s most skilled player, but as its heart and soul, align with my definition of leadership that I noted previously.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Check out AARP across platforms, as we have so much to share, and readers can find me on Twitter (@scott_frisch) and LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/scottfrisch).
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!