Meet Mike Thomas: CEO and Owner of Upstream 360
Sep 14, 2022
“The most successful and happy people are charting their own paths,” says Mike Thomas
His own journey to becoming the CEO and owner of Upstream 360 began in chemical engineering and a position on the product side of the business. Mike has been in the client’s shoes—a valuable perspective that led him to his work today as a creative agency owner.
A Unique Background
Before he made the leap to creative agency owner, Mike earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from Ohio University. He then spent most of his career in research and development at Procter & Gamble—specifically products research.
In R&D, his main focus was holistic product design work (designing products and packages that were both functional and experiential), technical product story creation (communicating clearly how a product works, along with its magic), and innovation strategy (finding exciting new breakthrough concepts to develop game-changing technologies).
He earned an MBA with a Marketing Emphasis from Xavier University during that time too.
While at P&G, Mike managed R&D teams of over 20 formulators, product researchers, process engineers, scientists, and demo experts—building a culture, processes, and organizational talent to design the best possible products. “I worked hard to invest my energy in my people, so that they could invest in building their careers and their projects,” he says.
In addition, Mike worked in marketing, managing a beauty care brand where he guided future innovations and marketing campaigns, directed R&D strategy efforts, and partnered with agencies to develop compelling information-led content for TV and beyond.
“I will be forever grateful for my time at P&G, as I was surrounded by some of the most passionate and brilliant people in the world.”
It was there that he learned how to develop and foster new ideas, how to successfully navigate those ideas through complex organizational structures, how to sell ideas (both internally and externally), and ultimately how to take ideas to market and sustain them.
The Leap From R&D to Creative Agency Owner
While working on his first project at P&G, Mike became friends with Neal Morris, who eventually went on to start Upstream 360. Years later, Mike partnered with Neal at Upstream 360 to help him grow the business, and today, Mike is the owner and CEO of Upstream 360.
“At the time, it felt like a huge leap,” says Mike. “Looking back, it feels like the most logical choice in the world.” Mike’s work at Upstream 360 is what he first learned to love at P&G—taking the magic of a product and finding ways to communicate that magic to an audience. That’s what makes Upstream 360 the perfect company for him.
From Chemical Engineering to Upstream 360
“ChemE’s are taught to solve problems. Hard problems,” Mike says. “And to do so by looking at them from different angles than most sane people.” That type of problem-solving skill gives Mike an advantage in the creative industry today.
Mike also says his P&G background is helpful in understanding how to tell and sell science stories. His current work at Upstream 360 feels like an extension of products research—finding amazing stories to celebrate the magic of ideas, products, and experiences.
On the business side, knowing how organizations work—from the inside out—enables Mike to help his current clients navigate their own projects, organizations, and careers. Plus, his early leadership experience prepared him to lead his current team of “wildly diverse brilliant humans,” as he calls them, at Upstream 360.
Beauty, Magic, and Video Production
Mike enjoys being surrounded by the talented team at the Upstream 360 office, where he says that the people are “curiously nerdy” and have the ability to “find beauty and magic in what most find mundane.” He also says the folks there are humble, inventive, and agile. Each new day at Upstream 360 is dynamic and different from the one before it.
Mike explains what makes him excited to come to work at Upstream 360 every day:
“There is always someone there who makes me laugh, inspires me, makes me dream, challenges me, and makes me better.”
In the future, Mike says he only sees the production of video content increasing exponentially, especially for mobile. His strategy? “I think the ability in our industry to produce concise, informative, nuanced, entertaining, and useful messaging will be paramount in rising from the clutter to connect our clients to our consumers,” he says. That’s what will make the Upstream 360 team’s video content stand out.
Upstream 360 works with global Fortune 500 companies, but in 2022 Mike says he’s also looking forward to focusing on what’s in their own backyard and making a difference locally in Blue Ash and Cincinnati.
When he’s not working, Mike says he’s happiest “on a ball field, in a book, or on a beach.” He’s passionate about coaching softball and baseball. He also loves to write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and more—and has even self-published a book on what he has learned throughout his career. Mike says his resolution for 2022 is to spend more time writing every day.
“I think the biggest mistake people make in creative and innovative fields is to spend all of their time working and none of their time playing,” Mike says. “Most good ideas come from connections made through life experiences and connections to a broader world. Work hard. Play hard.”
When asked how he wants people to remember him, Mike answered: “As someone who always swung for the fences, and helped them to swing big too.” He started his career in chemical engineering and R&D, then made the leap to creative agency owner. Now, Mike Thomas uses his experience and perspective to inspire the talented team at Upstream 360 to swing big.