Globetrotting Entrepreneur

Tony Scarzo '04 in Sweden's Icehotel. (Photo provided)

Matt Hawkins
June 19, 2017

International business alum Tony Scarzo ’04 may know the streets of Shanghai, China, and Stockholm, Sweden better than the I-74 corridor between Peoria and his Shelbyville, Indiana, hometown. That’s to be expected for a world traveler who worked abroad since graduation.

Scarzo stumbled into his first foreign business experience shortly after leaving Bradley and discovered he enjoyed international travel. While living in central Illinois, he frequently traveled to Shanghai for L.R. Nelson Corp. and then ElectroLux. That travel prepared him for a three-year stay in Shanghai and a two-year assignment to Stockholm.

“After going to China once, I got addicted to travel,” Scarzo said. “Going overseas was a huge shock, but it was the best thing to happen to me. After a year working in Shanghai, I realized I could live internationally forever.”

Having interned for L.R. Nelson as a student, he transitioned into a product management leadership role shortly after graduation. The job introduced him to international business, as it required frequent trips to meet with the company’s Chinese suppliers.

After three years learning management skills and taking a dozen trips to China, Scarzo tackled another international challenge: project management for home appliance giant ElectroLux. He took over several new projects that further developed his leadership abilities at the company’s Bloomington offices, though those duties also included trips to advise project progress in Shanghai.

Scarzo didn’t stay Stateside long, however. When ElectroLux left Illinois for North Carolina in 2011, he opted for a project office management position in Shanghai instead of following the business to the East Coast. He hired and developed the Shanghai team for three years until projects were completed.

ElectroLux management then transferred Scarzo across the continent to corporate headquarters in Sweden. The new assignment continued similar duties, but in a different culture.

The experience opened his eyes to networks of friends and coworkers who gave him new perspectives.

“Life is so much more interesting,” Scarzo said. “I’ve met people from all over who made me realize there’s so much more to learn. Coming from the Midwest where we all have the same backgrounds, it’s refreshing to meet people from different backgrounds.”

The journey to a life abroad began with cross-cultural experiences on the Hilltop. Bradley’s diverse student body and faculty fascinated the naturally inquisitive Scarzo, who was raised in a small farming community.

“It was fascinating to hear others’ experiences,” he said. “The more I was around different cultures, the more I questioned why I did things certain ways. It was good to be stretched like that.”

Jim Foley, director of the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship, first sparked Scarzo’s imagination about international business and became a valued mentor.

After graduation, Foley’s wisdom guided Scarzo through the ups and downs of life abroad.

“He was so passionate about international business that I wanted to follow his path,” Scarzo said.

Scarzo returned to Bradley in 2016 to earn an MBA while on sabbatical. The degree will enhance his value for ElectroLux and potentially open future opportunities for consulting.

While back in Peoria, Scarzo discovered Peoria’s small business entrepreneurship scene through his mentor’s local ties. He’s exploring real estate and organic farms as side projects while he works on the degree.

“It’s amazing to see what’s going on in the community,” he said. “There are a lot of entrepreneurs in the city who are working hard to grow the small business community. Peoria has many opportunities that I wouldn’t have in many other cities.”

The Peoria return also provided a timely opportunity to evaluate life. Looking back, he wished his college self would have been more open to surprises.

After all, life to this point hasn’t quite followed the script he planned more than a decade ago.

“I stressed out too much planning my future,” Scarzo said. “I should’ve been more open to what might happen. I’ve met so many people, traveled the world and discovered a thriving business scene in my old backyard. None of this would’ve happened if my life would’ve followed my plans.”