From Firelands to the Far East
Alumnus uses hard work and a sense of adventure to achieve success
By Matt Markey
Is there a route that will take you from the tiny Ohio community of Willard and the Firelands campus of BGSU to Japan, China, Singapore and the rest of the world and beyond?
The answer is profoundly in the positive from Mike Crawford’s perspective. The 1990 graduate found those distant stepping stones are in close enough proximity if hard work, sound leadership, and a willingness to explore opportunity make up key parts of the path.
“When you grow up in the Midwest, you’re raised with these certain core values that will serve you well no matter where your career might take you,” Crawford said. “No matter where you start, there really aren’t any boundaries. I think it’s more about dedication, putting in your best effort for that day, and knowing when you lay your head on the pillow that night that you did your best.”
Crawford’s current work days end in Singapore, where he is the president of the Asia Pacific division of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. He is responsible for the company’s business activities in the region, which includes implementing Four Seasons’ growth objectives and fulfilling the strategic plan for its Asia operations.
That is a considerable workload on one set of shoulders, but Crawford credits his humble background and the strong work ethic he observed in his parents with helping to pave the superhighway his career has followed. His mother was a florist and a homemaker, while his father was a senior leader at a company in Willard, Ohio. Crawford said his dad’s very personal leadership style is something he has tried to mimic.
“When I was young, I was fortunate enough to go to work with my dad on Saturday’s, and he always made sure the people there knew he cared about them. It always impressed me that even though there was a lot of people working there; it was kind of like a family. He knew the employees and he also knew what their daughter or son was up to.”
When it was time for Crawford to start preparing for college, he aimed close to home, but by the time he applied to BGSU it was too late to be admitted to the main campus, so Firelands was a logical alternative. It turned out to be an ideal place for Crawford to transition into the college experience.
“For me, Firelands was probably a good environment to start and learn about college, learn how to study and do the things that would make it a successful experience. It was closer and it was smaller, and Firelands provided me with a good period of time to get my legs under me and understand what it was going to take to be a good student,” Crawford said.
He was a business major at BGSU, since the time spent with his father had left Crawford intrigued with all of the nuances involved in the leadership and management aspects of directing a business. Following graduation in the spring of 1990, Crawford registered to return to Bowling Green in the fall to pursue his MBA, but the world called and he never made it back.
A close friend from BGSU had gone to work for Disney in Orlando and encouraged Crawford to spend the summer working there. At first he sold tickets, but the folks at Disney World quickly recognized Crawford’s potential went well beyond that, and after a month or so he was offered the opportunity to stay and enter Disney’s management program.
“At the time I went down there, the company was expanding by leaps and bounds, and there was great potential for career growth,” Crawford said. “Plus, after I had been there a little while, I realized the company’s culture aligned very well with me. It was an entertainment conglomerate that looked to invest in people who had a desire to grow, and I just liked what the company stood for, which is making people happy. Their entire focus was on creating a great product, and a product people trusted, so it was just a very good match for me.”
Disney liked the match too, and by his second year with the company Crawford was working in management. In his first five years with Disney, he held seven different jobs. He went on to manage Disney properties and had several thousand people working for him. Crawford was approached about working internationally for Disney, and became a critical part of the “world” in Disney’s universe.
Crawford went on to lead a business development team that engaged in negotiations with the government of China that led to the development of the Shanghai Disney Resort. He served as senior vice president and general manager of that property and president of the Walt Disney Holding Company in Shanghai. His 24-year run with Disney came to a close as the result of a late night call from an executive search firm that was looking for a new president to lead a growing and expanding company in Asia, and that brought Crawford to Four Seasons.
“It was a big move and it shocked quite a few people at Disney, but I had flirted with the notion of working with another company, and I guess we’re very fortunate that my wife and I both have this adventurous attitude,” Crawford said. “I’d be lying if I said that the first time I moved overseas I wasn’t nervous, because I’m a guy who grew up in a town of 7,000 people, but I’ve looked at these moves as just great growth opportunities, from a professional development standpoint.”
When Crawford took the post in Singapore with Four Seasons in 2014, besides lauding Crawford’s extensive experience in business development, managing brands, creating new product and streamlining operations, Four Seasons President and CEO J. Allen Smith also called the BGSU graduate “an excellent cultural fit” due to Crawford’s extensive experience in Asia.
“You pick up things no matter where you live,” Crawford said. “And you can’t have an ego – you go in willing to learn. After nearly 25 years as a senior executive, I still need to be humble. I think leaders have a responsibility to the people that work for them to be good listeners.”
Crawford credits his days watching his father’s management style with creating part of the foundation of his own approach to leadership in business.
“I think you start off and build leadership skills from what you learn by observing others. When I worked in my father’s plant and watched him and the supervisors and managers there, I got a certain perspective, and then I learned things from the professors and academic advisors I had in school. You take bits and pieces from each experience and hold onto those, and over the years you develop your own style,” he said.
“For me, I think you walk into a job with your eyes and ears open, and follow the simple principle of treating people the way you want to be treated. That applies anywhere in life, and anywhere in the world.”