Man with a vision

[This article appeared in a supplement to Strategy sponsored by Loyalty Management Group.]Loyalty Management Group Canada has been imprinted by the philosophy, passion and vision of Craig Underwood, its president and founder of the Canadian program.Before starting LMG Canada in 1991,...

[This article appeared in a supplement to Strategy sponsored by Loyalty Management Group.]

Loyalty Management Group Canada has been imprinted by the philosophy, passion and vision of Craig Underwood, its president and founder of the Canadian program.

Before starting LMG Canada in 1991, Underwood was a partner in the international management consulting firm, Bain & Company.

There he developed and helped clients implement strategies for companies in more than 15 industries.

During his seven years with Bain, he worked on such varied projects as developing marketing and supplier strategies for a leading marketing research company; improving procurement and distribution for a direct marketer of ladies’ hosiery; and developing cost reduction and retail strategy for a large turkey processing business.

His primary focus during his last two years with Bain was the development of customer loyalty and customer retention programs.

Originally from West Virginia, Underwood got his undergraduate degree in political science from West Virginia University, where he was president of the student body and from which he graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

He also has an ma in economics and philosophy from Oxford University in England, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and an mba from the University of Chicago.

After wvu, Underwood had planned to go to law school and then return to West Virginia to eventually enter politics.

Then, one of his professors urged him to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship.

It was during those two years at Oxford University that he had a chance to think about what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

He decided that doing something in business was a much better fit for his skills than the legal profession.

‘I was interested in consulting because I liked everything I was studying in business school, and consulting gave me the ability to be exposed to all those different areas,’ Underwood says.

‘When I went to Bain, my goal was to become partner in five or six years, be a partner for a while, and then, either work in a company for a while and get that side of it, or do something entrepreneurial,’ he says.

Underwood was promoted to partner in four and a half years and met Keith Mills, founder of LMG Canada parent, Air Miles International, when Air Miles UK hired Bain to do a study on ways to make the program more profitable.

When Mills asked if he would like to start up LMG Canada, Underwood says, ‘it took very little thought.

‘There was a voice in my head that said, `Carpe Diem, seize the day.’ ‘

That is, typically, Underwood’s approach to life.

‘I always like to try new things,’ he says.

‘I like to create a lot of different things by bringing together parts of things that don’t, historically, go together – and I do that everywhere from work, to cooking, to designing things for my house.

‘I think it’s very important for people to have passions – to be passionate about work and have passions outside of work – and I have several of those.’

Underwood’s passions outside of the office include white-water kayaking, mountain biking, hiking and skiing.

‘I try very hard never to work seven days a week. I think it has a negative impact on your creativity and productivity and just your general being. It doesn’t make you a fun person to be around.

‘I have violated that a couple of times with this business when it’s been necessary, but my fiancee and I try to get away a lot of weekends.’

Underwood’s personal philosophies follow him into his work environment, as well.

‘I’m very driven to push the envelope, and to continue to make this program and this company more and more successful,’ he says.

‘But, I believe you have to temper that vision and drive with realism on several different fronts.

‘One is, it’s important to be realistic about the companies you’re working with.

‘We’re a relatively small company, and we can move very quickly, make decisions very quickly. But we’re working with and sharing customers with some very large companies.

‘It’s important for us to work together in the spirit of partnership with these companies, and to be knowledgeable about their needs, and processes and their strategies, too.

‘I think they want us to push them, but we also have to respect that they’ve got a different set of processes and goals. We need to find a confluence of those processes and goals so we can work together effectively.

‘The other place I think it’s critical to temper drive and vision and passion for developing this program is with dealing with our people here in the office.

‘We have phenomenal people here, a great team. They work very hard, but it’s important we don’t burn ourselves out.

‘I think it’s also important to encourage our people to pursue passions outside of work.

‘I sometimes talk to them about the salmon theory of working. That creating something and pushing the envelope on something that’s never been done before is like a salmon swimming upstream.

‘You’re forging new ground, and, sometimes, the water is going against you.

‘You come to a lock. If the lock’s closed, no amount of swimming in the world will get you through that lock.

‘If it’s open, you’ve got that window of opportunity, that chance to get through, and then you swim like hell.

‘What’s important is to know when it’s closed. You recharge your batteries and regroup and don’t work at something you won’t be successful at. You recognize when it’s open and you go.

‘The way to be successful in this kind of environment is to know when to kick back and recharge, and when it’s time to really push ahead – and I try to make sure people understand that.’