By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
SAN FRANCISCO – Scott Lieberman was unable to sleep.
It had been a few weeks since his mother, Patti, had passed away after a valiant battle with colon cancer. Lieberman, a junior on the Vanderbilt University tennis team, was back home in Riverwoods, Ill., having taken the year off from school after his mother’s passing.
Suddenly, at that moment in 2009, he knew what he wanted to do. He grabbed a napkin and scribbled down his ideas.
“I couldn’t sleep at night,” Lieberman said. “I woke up in the middle of the night and had the idea to start a foundation in her memory. I wrote down it down on a napkin and told my dad the next morning that I wanted to start a foundation to raise money for colon cancer awareness, education and research. I wanted it to be dedicated to her and focus on the sport that she watched me and my brother grow up with – tennis.”
And from that discussion with his father, the Advantage Love Foundation (www.advantagelove.org) was born. The organization’s structure is no more complex than what could fit on that napkin, but the impact has been much larger.
“It’s kind of a play on words from tennis terminology,” Lieberman said. “In her memory, the goal is essentially to raise as much money as possible for colon cancer and other promising causes. In and of itself, the foundation doesn’t employ anybody. There’s me, my dad and brother, and a couple of other volunteers who help us out with things. We don’t have anybody on salary and we don’t run any programs of our own. We accept donations and then we scan the scene of what is going on in colon cancer research in the world and find causes worth helping.”
It didn’t matter that his team’s season had started; Ian Duvenhage boarded a flight from Nashville to Chicago.
The head tennis coach views his team as family and, accordingly so, he wanted to be on hand at the funeral of Patti Lieberman.
“From a tennis perspective, just to give you a sense of how close we were, I flew up to Chicago in January of 2009 and my mom was sick then. She was in the hospital and I went to be with her,” Lieberman said. “She ended up passing away a few weeks later. My coach showed up to the funeral. We didn’t ask him to come, he just jumped on a plane and, the next day, was in Chicago.”
But it wasn’t just Duvenhage. The Vanderbilt tennis family extends far beyond the squad’s head coach.
“I was getting phone calls and cards from all of my teammates, even teammates who had graduated and moved on,” Lieberman said. “I can’t express how amazing and how much of an awesome experience it was to play tennis at Vanderbilt. I know it’s like this for every sport; playing in the SEC was amazing.”
Lieberman wasn’t just a tennis player. He graduated from Vanderbilt in May 2010 after majoring in engineering science and economics with a minor in engineering management.
He currently resides in the San Francisco area working for Intuit, a software company based in California. Lieberman is currently halfway through the two-year rotational development program.“It is essentially a two-year rotational program where we do four six-month rotations in different business aspects,” Lieberman said. “We’re a computer software company that basically does financial software for small businesses. I did one six-month rotation for the connective services group, which was basically moving us from a desktop software company over to online. My current rotation is product management for the Intuit Health Care group, which is software that helps doctors run their offices more efficiently and effectively. It makes the experience for the patients better.”
The fact that Lieberman is thriving in the business world is no surprise to anyone who is familiar with his background. Playing Division I tennis, attending one of the most difficult academic institutions in the country and running a foundation while in college prepared him well for his current career.
“I can honestly say Vanderbilt is one of the best places, if not the best place, I have ever been,” Lieberman said. “It has prepared me extremely well for life after school. From an all-around perspective in terms of the academic quality of the school, to the people I met, to having the chance to play SEC Division-I tennis, it was pretty much a dream school for me. Some of the things I have done since graduation have seemed relatively easy, comparatively.”
And it wasn’t just what he learned in the classroom that prepared him for life in the computer software world. It was the entire Vanderbilt experience, especially what he learned about how to interact and work with people from all walks of life.
“Any school you go to, you are going to get a good education and have good teachers,” Lieberman said. “The thing that Vanderbilt does really well and why I think it’s one of the best schools in the country is that there is a huge social aspect to Vanderbilt. I have found early on in the business world that business is mostly social. Of course, it takes some smarts and you have to know what you’re doing and it takes a lot of hard work. But you have to be able to talk to people about what you’re doing and inspire people.”
The work he put in on the tennis court has been just as beneficial in Lieberman’s life.
“The athletics side of things really just prepares you for the business world,” he said. “If you can do the 5 a.m. two-a-day workouts, I think you can wake up at 8 a.m. and go to work. There’s just something about training for athletics that make everything else seem easier.”
Lieberman saw it all pay off when managing his foundation. In order to balance all the proverbial balls in his juggling act, he would come to rely on the time-management skills that he learned as a college athlete.
“Creating the foundation took a lot of time and hard work, but I would say that playing a Division I sport really prepares you to handle time management,” Lieberman said. “Working with people on a team makes you aware that if you have a goal, it is easy to rally everyone in order to share and achieve that goal.”
That’s what any advocate working with any disease will tell you is one of the most important factors. For colon cancer, that’s perhaps even more important.
“Colon cancer is a very preventable disease,” Lieberman said. “If you catch it early enough, they can treat it fairly effectively. It has a really high rate of survival if you catch it early. If you don’t catch it early, it’s very fatal and very hard to treat once it has spread to other organs.”
And while Lieberman and the Advantage Love Foundation have worked hard to raise money to go towards colon cancer research, he understands that awareness is the most important factor.
“That’s a big part of what our foundation tries to do,” Lieberman said. “We know that as a grassroots organization, we're probably not going to raise enough money to be significant in the medical research world. But we definitely have the ability to promote awareness and education. Our first fundraiser, we made over $15,000 and did donate that to a research cause.”
Lieberman has taken advantage of events at his workplace and other outlets to help educate people on the importance of colon cancer awareness and screening.
“We have a new focus on how we can educate people,” Lieberman said. “At Intuit, we have a program called We Care & Give Back, a company program sponsoring community service and social action. We have a meeting once every two months for organizations and they let us set up booths and have a community service fair. I set up a booth for the foundation, pass out brochures and let people know when and how they can get screened. We’re going that route in terms of how we can educate people about getting screened.”
It all comes down to the little things. The difference between good and great, bad and good, is miniscule. It’s a lesson that Lieberman learned in his Vanderbilt tennis days and that advice has served him well.
“Coach always told me that you’re only as good on the playing field as you are in the rest of your life,” Lieberman said. “That means getting good grades translates to how you play on the court. Staying healthy and keeping your room clean – all those little things that you might not pay much attention to – translates to your success on the tennis court and life in general.”
Lieberman expects to use his complete skill set to become successful in life. But for him, that doesn’t translate into big dollars or a large expense account. It comes down to the ability to have a platform through which to create awareness and hopefully find a cure for colon cancer.
“I’m just starting out in business and I don’t have a lot of clout, but I’m hoping to be successful one of these days and be able to give back to colon cancer and hopefully make it so that nobody else has to experience what I did,” Lieberman said. “Obviously no one ever wants to have a parent pass away, but if there is a bright side, it gave me focus and something that I am extremely, extremely passionate about.”