Underwood Staying on Industrys Cutting Edge

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 196 views 

At 49, Craig Underwood exudes youthful energy and enthusiasm. His eyes sparkle as he explains the intricacies of measuring how light reacts within a diamond.

He was vice president of Underwood’s Fine Jewelers, the Fayetteville business founded by his father, when he was named to the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class in 1998.

Since then, one of his biggest career accomplishments has been heading an international task force charged with establishing a new cut grading system for diamonds. Tapped for that project by the American Gem Society’s Diamond Standards Committee in late 1999, he gathered experts from around the world to analyze and evaluate the light performance of various diamond shapes.

The group released its new standards in 2004.

“My committee’s work ended up changing the way the diamond industry worldwide grades diamonds,” he said. “It was a fascinating time and fun to work with some of the greatest minds in the industry.”

Appointed president of the company in 2001 when his dad, Bill Underwood, became chairman, Craig Underwood also served for several years as president of the American Gem Society.

A former president of the Northside Rotary Club, he’s on hiatus from it right now — “too many irons in the fire,” he said. A member of Sequoyah United Methodist Church, he served for several years on the finance committee and just finished a two-year term as its chairman.

But closest to his heart is his work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Twelve years ago, his youngest son, then not quite 4 years old, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

At the time, there was no Northwest Arkansas chapter of the foundation, so his wife, Laura, started one to help support other families. She currently serves as president of the chapter’s board.

“The majority of my role is supporting her in it,” he said.

His dad, at 79, still works every day in the Dickson Street store.

Over the years, father and son have joined in several business ventures. They were among the founders of the Powerhouse restaurant in Fayetteville, and still own the building.

They also partnered with Jim Lindsey to develop The Cliffs apartment complexes.

Perhaps their most ambitious undertaking was a nine-story condominium project called the Lofts at Underwood Plaza. The Underwoods and four others partnered in the Dickson Street development, but construction delays put it behind schedule.

By the time the building was finished, the real estate market had nosedived and sales and rentals of the condo units didn’t pan out as projected.

The property has been under receivership, and Arvest Bank of Fayetteville filed a complaint a year ago seeking more than $21.6 million in principal, plus interest and late charges.

Partner Ted Belden is considering buying out the partners and assuming all debt on the property, and that’s currently where matters stand, Underwood said.

The Lofts ordeal has been “an incredible learning experience,” he said.

If he had it to do over again?

“I wouldn’t do it,” he said with a laugh. He said he and his dad agree that of all their business ventures, the Lofts has proved the most challenging, because of the economic environment.

The experience hasn’t dampened his adventurous spirit, however, or caused him to shy away from a challenge.

Last May, he and Laura got interested in cycling, and Laura decided that for her 50th birthday in September, she wanted to make a 400-mile bicycle trip through Oregon. So with the help of a friend, they started training for the trek.

They made the weeklong ride along Oregon’s southern coast in mid-September, averaging 50 to 100 miles a day, eschewing such niceties as hotel accommodations.

Two weeks after the trip, Underwood said he and Laura are already planning their next one, which will likely be in Virginia. This trip will include nights in a hotel, however.

Now almost empty nesters, their two oldest sons are in college. The youngest, who’ll turn 16 this month, is a high school sophomore.

With so many accomplishments under his belt, Underwood says he’s open to whatever the future holds.

“I’ll just see what doors open up and what opportunities and options come my way.”