By John Grennan
Traveling from San Francisco to Singapore several times a year, Craig McHugh ’80, president of Creative Labs, breaks up the 18-hour flight by donning headphones and listening to tunes on his MP3 player.
For McHugh, this familiar scene is more than a traveler’s favorite distraction. His company is the world’s second-largest producer of MP3 players, those omnipresent devices piping tunes into millions of ears worldwide. The trips to Asia are part of Creative’s global strategy to ensure that the music keeps playing.
“We create products that enhance a high-quality music experience,” says McHugh in an interview from Milpitas, the U.S. headquarters of Singapore-based Creative Technologies. “We started as an audio company, and we’ve stayed true to that heritage.”
It’s a heritage that encompasses more than pocket music players, which include Creative’s ZEN X-Fi that earned “better than iPod” raves from PC World magazine in 2008. With more than 5,000 employees worldwide and $914 million in revenue in 2007, Creative also makes Sound Blaster audio components, standard for many PC sound systems since the 1990s. In 1997, the company purchased Cambridge Sound Works, a leading stereo manufacturer.
A top position in a multinational electronics company represents the culmination of a long journey for McHugh, who came to Saint Mary’s from Danville in the late 1970s. He first stepped on campus when playing baseball as a teenager.
“I truly wanted to go to Saint Mary’s, but my parents couldn’t afford to put me through school,” says McHugh, who worked at McCaulou’s department store to pay for tuition.
“It was challenging, but I worked until 9 and did homework at night.”
This work ethic helped McHugh land a job at Hewlett-Packard in 1980 — just as the technology sector was beginning to boom in Silicon Valley.
“I fell in love at that time with technology and computing,” says McHugh, who spent the next decade at HP and Trace, a high-speed data transfer company. He moved to Creative in 1993 and has served in senior leadership positions, including the last several years as president.
McHugh has helped Creative branch out from audio to the visual realm. Now the world’s second-largest producer of computer web cameras, Creative also unveiled its new handheld Dado digital video camera and the InPerson video conferencing system at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
As the public face of a major company, McHugh spends much of his time making presentations to stockholders, sales executives and journalists. He says expressing ideas in Saint Mary’s Seminar Program in front of teachers like Elmer Gelinas trained him to enter any room with confidence.
“With Gelinas, it was incredibly difficult or embarrassing — or both — not to be prepared,” he recalls. “That was where I became comfortable speaking before groups and learned to form ideas on the fly.”
McHugh also says accounting techniques he learned from professor Joe Lupino as a business and economics major still help him make business decisions three decades later.
“I use the information I learned at Saint Mary’s daily,” he insists. “Accounting has now become second nature. The things that were challenging in class we now do every day – looking at pricing models, demand curves, market trends, key economic trends, currencies and exchange rates.”
McHugh, who lives with his wife and three children in Woodside, says Saint Mary’s Seminar and business programs helped him succeed. But he feels he learned something more important along the way.
“I’m very grateful to Saint Mary’s for helping make me an ethical person,” he says. “It influences how we approach our business and customers.”