Retired Marine Colonel Scott Willis Hopes to Become Westfield’s Next Mayor
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Whitney Moore
Ever since Scott Willis was a little boy, he had dreams of becoming a military jet pilot to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who, during World War II, was shot down in Japan in a bombing run.
“Growing up, I really honored and respected my grandfather for that sacrifice he made for his country, so I wanted to be the next family member to fly,” Willis says. That door, unfortunately, closed when he learned in high school that he didn’t have 20/20 vision.
“I thought, ‘If I can’t fly, I don’t want to join,’” he says.
Willis went on to study Civil Engineering at Purdue University. Halfway through his junior year, Operation Desert Storm caused his dream to be resurrected. Following college graduation, he entered the Marine Corps and served four years of active duty.
“I felt called to serve as my father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served,” Willis says.
In 2004, after coming off of active duty, Willis and his wife, Stacey, settled in Hamilton County where Willis got into corporate America. An entrepreneur at heart, he started two businesses. One is an executive search firm and the other is a company that invests in commercial and multifamily real estate. Once Willis started building companies, he went back into the Marine Corps Reserve, where he rose to the rank of colonel.
“I led groups as large as 1,500 Marines,” he says. “I managed operating budgets north of $100 million. During my time in the Marine Corps, I led and managed organizations larger in size than the City of Westfield.”
While serving, he was deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He was involved in combat operations on the Syrian border. Once they had cleared al-Qaeda out of cities, his job became a civil-affairs mission where he and his men helped build schools, repair infrastructure, and run the country’s constitutional referendum and national elections.
“We were there at a transition period for Iraq,” Willis says.
Back home, Willis has been ingrained in the Westfield community for many years, having coached a variety of WYSI teams for his children. He’s also served on the board of directors for Student Impact and the Westfield Washington Public Library, and was on the steering committee for the Westfield YMCA. Plus, he has served on the Redevelopment Authority managing the bonds for Grand Park, Planning Commission where he was involved in zoning, and now City Council. When Willis was nearing retirement with the military, he knew he would have extra time on his hands, so he began to think of ways he could get more involved in his community and started to explore running for mayor.
“I’d dipped my toes into the functioning of our city and started seeing some of the challenges we’re facing around growth, infrastructure and luring in businesses,” he says. With his military leadership experience and business background, he knew he could bring real value to such a role.
Willis also loves spending time with his wife and three children, Sophia, 20, Brenna, 18, and Graden, 14. When Willis first returned from Iraq, his oldest daughter jumped into his arms for a giant hug. However, Brenna, just over 1 year old at the time, was leery of her dad.
“She had no idea who I was,” Willis says. “It took a good year or two for us to bond. You don’t appreciate how important those first 12 months of a child’s development are until you’re not there for it.”
No doubt about it – military life takes its toll on the entire family. Willis took a huge pay cut when he got mobilized, and additionally, the unknowns were anxiety-inducing.
“Stacey and I had good communication during the war, but whenever combat operations would start up, they’d shut down all the communications, and for 10 or 12 days Stacey wouldn’t hear from me,” Willis says. “She knew that once we went dark, I was in danger. Mentally and emotionally, it took its toll. Watching it play out in the news messes with your mind. She dealt with that stress on a daily basis.”
On April 1, 2022, Willis retired from the military after 30 years of service. Three years ago he sold his executive search firm to a client. He’s stayed on as vice president, running a new division of the company, and will finish that job at the end of the year.
“The stars have aligned because if I win the election, I’d take over as mayor on January 1, making it the perfect time to go down this path,” says Willis, who would love nothing more than to be elected Westfield’s next mayor. “I’ve traveled the world and I can tell you that nothing compares to Hamilton County and in particular, Westfield.”
Westfield is no longer a small town. The current population is just over 50,000, and the city has in its pipeline enough housing to grow to 70,000. With this rapid growth, Westfield is facing unique and complex infrastructure challenges including public safety. Currently, 90% of the city’s tax revenue is coming from residential homes and apartment complexes.
“Keeping up with this growth while keeping taxes low will be extremely challenging moving forward,” Willis says. “Experience matters. Westfield needs a mayor with the right background and leadership experience to get the job done. I believe with my experience in corporate America building two small companies, coupled with my experience in the Marine Corps leading a battalion of more than 1,500 Marines with an operating budget of more than $100M, I have the tools to hit the ground running on day one.
“We also need to think about what we want Westfield to look like 10, 20, 30 years from now,” he adds. “I would like to create a city not just for us to enjoy now, but one our children will want to come back to after college — one for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I believe this includes capitalizing on and building amenities around Grand Park and also creating a vibrant downtown with shops, restaurants and places to gather. We need to keep our dollars and the dollars of tourists here in Westfield. We can take ideas from our neighbor cities and still keep Westfield the unique place we’ve all come to love. We are at a pivotal moment in Westfield’s future and we have one chance to get this right.”