Ray Underwood receives Lifetime Achievement Award

“Schultzy, if you wanna do some good lobbying, do it with a can of worms,” Ray Underwood told me years ago. Last week, Underwood became the first recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award, created in his honor by the Michigan Boating Industries Association, and it couldn’t be more fitting.

I met Underwood when he took the helm of the MBIA in 1976. I was “next door” in Ohio at the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association. We had much in common. We wanted to see our respective organizations developed into effective, professional, politically successful industry advocates. We also recognized our job was to find ways to make our members more successful.

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Underwood proceeded to turn the MBIA around from near bankruptcy to a well-financed operation, first by remaking the Detroit Boat Show into one of the nation’s largest and financially successful, and then establishing a powerful lobbying structure in which he still actively serves today.

He served as the MBIA executive director for 13 years and continued as director of government relations for three more. With his passion for lobbying only exceeded by his love of boating and fishing, he joined the lobbying firms that represented the MBIA and still serves at Muchmore Harrington Smalley & Associates, a top-rated lobbying firm in Lansing.

The Ray L. Underwood Lifetime Achievement Award seems certain to be displayed alongside the many other industry awards in Underwood’s office, including the prestigious Irv Rosenthal Award from the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, the induction into the MBIA Hall of Fame, the Mayor’s Award, a special tribute from Gov. Rick Snyder, among others.

“Ray has a remarkable nearly 40-year record as a champion for Michigan’s boating industry both as our executive director and lobbyist,” current MBIA executive director Nicki Polan, who joined MBIA when Underwood was executive director, said. “This award is well-deserved.”

It’s no surprise that Underwood has also readily served in a wide range of other allied industry and state positions. For example, he served two terms as both chairman and vice chairman of the National Marine Trades Council; the Michigan Society of Association Executives; the Lake Michigan Fishing Task Force; Recreational Boating Industries Educational Foundation; Governor’s Task Force on Traffic Safety/Watercraft; DNR Task Force to Study Wetlands Permit Review Process; and Secretary/Treasurer of the National Association of Exposition Managers, Detroit Chapter, among others.

So what about the can of worms? Early on, Underwood shared his formula for lobbying. “We have the greatest lobbying tool — our boats,” he said. “Just take legislators out to the excellent fishing in the western Lake Erie (waters shared by Ohio and Michigan) and bingo.” Obviously, we used worms to catch Lake Erie’s excellent walleye.

No doubt it was the best lobbying advice anyone ever gave me. I can honestly say that, through the years, I took countless Ohio lawmakers and regulatory agency officials out with “a can of worms.” Many lawmakers from down state had never been on Lake Erie before. Others simply jumped at the chance to chase walleye, often with a son or daughter along. Those cans of worms helped me make a lot of friends that were there for boating issues when the need arose.

No one deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award more.


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