Marketing guru keeps feet planted in the real world

Profile of Lindsay Meredith, professor emeritus, Simon Fraser University

Lindsay Meredith, professor emeritus, Simon Fraser University | Rob Kruyt

Back in junior high, Lindsay Meredith got his first and most formidable taste of work ethic and discipline. The professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business has carved out a long career as both a teacher and a marketing consultant. Meredith estimates he’s completed close to 2,000 press interviews as well, with outlets such as BBC World News, Voice of America and Business in Vancouver.

But it all started back in band class at McPherson Park junior high.

Meredith played the clarinet. His teacher, Tom Furness, who had a background in the British military, brought an unusually strict sensibility to music.

“He ran the class like the military too,” said Meredith, who was born in 1947. “And it was just what you need with a bunch of teenagers. He was about five foot nothing, but this guy had the energy of about 19 people.”

Furness’ class was all about structure and a disciplined approach to playing one’s instrument and marching. Meredith said the no-nonsense teaching style resonated deeply with him. 

“It was just, ‘If you’re not going to break your back doing it, get the hell out of the room.’ And he said, ‘I don’t associate with people who are lazy buggers,’ and that was his view. ‘You either give 150%, or you don’t bother giving anything, and I’m not interested in talking to you.’”

Meredith took the teachings to heart, and after he graduated from high school in 1965, he headed straight to Simon Fraser University (SFU), taking a full course load in English while working as a stocker at Super Valu. However, while he got high marks in English class, Meredith quickly realized if he was going to be successful, he was going to have to narrow his field of study.

“My brain reached a fundamental impasse,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is a lot of fun, but is it going to put food on the table or am I going to be a barista forevermore?’”

Meredith switched over to business and math classes, and graduated with a bachelor of business administration degree in 1968. He said his initial interest was in marketing, which was still in its infancy at that time. There was little mention of things like behavioural economics or psychology when it came to business, but early signs were there pointing to their later development as marketing tools.

Meredith was fascinated with the relationship between consumers and products, and how people respond to various programs, projects and initiatives. This led him to his first job after graduation, working in personnel management for Sears in 1969. Meredith hated it and pulled the plug after four months. He travelled awhile through Europe but soon found himself back home looking for work. He became a commodity broker and U.S. rail trader in 1970 for Weldwood of Canada, the world’s largest producer of plywood at the time. Meredith loved the job, and before long he became a sales analyst working with the president and the executive team.

It was here, however, that Meredith, then in his early 20s, saw first-hand the uglier side of the business world for the first time after he took some ideas to the company’s leadership that included new ways of doing things in the realm of sales and marketing, and shed light on possible inefficiencies.

“Unfortunately when I did that, some guys who had been working for the company for 30 years lost their job,” he said. “And I wanted no part of that. And at that part, we parted ways. It was suggested to me that I would be happier elsewhere and I said, ‘You’re goddamn right.’”

Meredith decided to head back to SFU and complete his master’s degree in economics and a PhD in business and economics. From there he started teaching. His first job was as a sessional instructor in the university’s department of economics and commerce in 1974. From there, things took off for him as a teacher and as a consultant. He’s worked with a number of big-name multinational companies and governments on a host of marketing contracts. He’s also been an expert witness in court cases and has been published in such prestigious outlets as the Harvard Review of Economics and Statistics. He also spent time as SFU’s director of the executive MBA program and director of graduate programs within the school’s faculty of business administration.

Meredith said he’s been press-friendly over the years for one simple reason: advertising. When he first started making himself available as a source to the media, he said some of his colleagues were skeptical and dismissive, but he knew that one of the best ways to raise the profile of the university was to get its professors out into the real world and commenting on real-world issues.

“After a while I think a light bulb started to go off in their heads as well,” he said.

Arthur De Jong, the mountain planning and environmental resource manager at Whistler Blackcomb, has known Meredith for close to 30 years. The two were first neighbours, and now De Jong, who has been with the ski resort in one capacity or another since the 1980s, calls Meredith a “lifelong mentor” of his.

“He’s exceptionally bright. I mean you don’t get a PhD without some serious brainpower,” said De Jong. “But he also has a very curious mind. Not to say that as a cliché – he is just very curious and he was always helping me along my career journey.”

Meredith also garnered a reputation for getting his students out of the classroom and into the real world. He would regularly get them to pitch marketing ideas to major corporations, and let them sink or swim on their ideas – and tell them to take it in stride if they got yelled at. It dated back to his time as a sales analyst, and to his teen years learning from Mr. Furness.

“Back at Simon Fraser when I first started teaching, my classes were known as boot camp,” he said. “Maybe that goes back to the band teacher. I had this reputation as a mean, nasty son of a bitch, but all my classes filled up just as quick as they became available. They maxed out right away because the students wanted that same reality check before they hit the real world.” •


Inside information: Lindsay Meredith

Currently reading:
The Economist

First album bought:
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor (can’t remember first album but this is sure as hell my favourite)

When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up: 

Profession you would most like to try: 

Toughest business or professional decision:
Protecting a manager I disrespected – but it was the ethical thing to do

Advice you would give the younger you:
You don’t have to be smarter than the other guy – just outwork him

What’s left to do:
Make a concerted effort to really goof off for a change