Ross Martin on Fortune’s 40 Under 40

by Chanel Cathey, Viacom

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Congratulations to our very own Ross Martin, EVP of Viacom’s creative swat team Scratch, who was named to FORTUNE’s annual 40 Under 40 list. Martin landed at number 17 among an impressive group of heavy hitters like Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter and Square’s Jack Dorsey.  The popular issue is flying off newsstands this month especially when Mayer became the first woman ever to top the list.  

We rushed to ask our sneaker collecting, poet in residence about making the list, the happenings at Scratch and what inspires him every day.   

The 40 Under 40 list is a very impressive list of leaders; this is a great opportunity for Scratch and Viacom.  What are you excited for the most?

Ross Martin: “If you look, Viacom is the only media company on that list.  It says something about us, how we grow leaders and empower innovation.  It’s also an opportunity to remind our partners and clients about the true cultural force of our networks — the people who work here, the impact we have, the movements we create, and how connected we are.  Being on that list tells the world Viacom is a dynamic place to be, where people with ideas can make them actually happen.”

What or who is your inspiration?

“It sounds cliché, but it’s hard to not be inspired just being here; surrounded by the people we get to work with, not to mention all we’ve inherited from friends and former colleagues who built this place.  We’re in the company of great talent, brilliant ideas and an unparalleled connection to our audiences.  It’s like, ok, somehow they let me in here, now how can I contribute in a meaningful way and make an impact, leave a mark.  We are standing at the center of culture and the cusp of everything. The headwinds are moving too fast for any one of us to make sense of it all on our own.  But when we work together we have a chance to — as T.S. Eliot put it — “disrupt the universe.”  If that birthright isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.  Also, I like the free soda we get.”

You started Scratch in 2010 and the group has grown significantly.  What was the original concept?

“Scratch began as an experiment with five of us.  We wanted to figure out, “How can we use the power of this media company in new ways?”  Viacom’s filled with world-class talent on every floor, and when you think about new ways of channeling all that cultural force to drive innovation and growth, it gets exciting.  We wanted to see what would happen if we started to open the API of the company, give some of our partners access to the source code, the capabilities that drive our brands’ core businesses.  Things like content development, art and design, research and insights, social and mobile strategy, talent development, recruiting, events, workforce innovation — all the stuff our brands use to move culture. Our company’s amazing at these things.  Turns out, our partners want Viacom’s help in these areas now more than ever; Scratch makes it possible for those partners to use Viacom’s strengths to help them win in their industries.”

Ok so what’s next for Scratch?

“Scratch explores the ways Viacom’s audiences are transforming the world around them.  We participate in that change to bring value to Viacom and our partners.  For example, a few years ago, we dug into the auto industry to decode the forces at play.  We were able to forecast how Millennials were about to transform the entire business.  Then we partnered with the largest automaker in the world to help it understand the tectonic shifts, adapt and evolve rapidly in every area of its business. We’ve done the same in beverage, consumer packaged goods, home electronics, etc. Now we’re about to release our biggest study ever, the Millennial Disruption Index, which measures the industries for whom transformation at the hands of Millennials is most imminent.  It’s no surprise that financial services is next.”

What are some milestones you are proud of?

“I’m most proud of the teams I’ve led and been part of, each filled with people with heart who work their butts off, never stop challenging themselves, and never stop learning.  What we’ve been able to accomplish together with our colleagues across the company is something we appreciate all the time at Scratch.  For me, that all started ten years ago, when Stephen Friedman showed me that a television network like mtvU could partner with its audience — in that case college students — to fight the genocide in Darfur.  Stephen taught me that we’re more than a group of TV networks — we have the power to shape and be shaped by the world.”

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