New TaylorMade CEO outlines brand's future plans
This is an extended version of a Q&A interview with TaylorMade's David Abeles that recently appeared in Golf Digest Stix. Abeles, 43, was named the CEO of TaylorMade Golf in March and gave us his first interview since taking the new job. Abeles brings more than 15 years experience in the golf industry with him to his new role, several of them coming working previously at TaylorMade.
Golf Digest Stix: It's your third stint with TaylorMade. How important is it to understand the culture of the company?
To be successful in this job, it's important not just to understand the culture of TaylorMade, but important to understand the culture of the industry and that of the golfer. I am an authentic, passionate golfer. There is a strategic side of things that encompass success in this role and then there is an intuitive side. If you look at the best leaders in the industry, they have had both. An intuitive sense of what the golfer wants is critical.
What is the perception of the company right now, both in the industry and with consumers?
When you're a company that bases its product strategy on innovation -- which is design and development to optimize performance -- there are things you do very well to excite consumers and there are times you do things quicker than most would appreciate or understand. And that's fair, that's definitely fair. But we're in a good place. We move forward and bring exciting products to market so consumers will get off the couch and buy them. We also have an obligation to work with our retail partners in managing some of the inventory challenges they face as a result of us bringing the products to market. We're cognizant of that. It's not a simple fix, but we have good ideas as to how we want to work with our customers. When you pursue innovation as a strategy -- and that is our strategy -- great things happen. But you take a lot of risk. We're very creative, we use technology to optimize performance and we use the world's best players to validate it. We're not perfect, I'm the first to admit that, but no company is.
What did you learn in your time that away from TaylorMade? (Abeles left in 2014 to become CEO of Competitor Group Inc., an operator of marathon and half-marathon races.)
I learned that running and golf are different. Running is an inspiring sport to those who run. They run for health and wellness, for charity, for personal records. Golf is a very aspirational sport. When we see Dustin Johnson, Jason Day or Justin Rose hit a shot, we want to hit that shot -- and from time to time we actually do. So we aspire to that level. But the biggest learning for me was the interaction of brands and how it can elevate your business practices. One of the things we'll do at TaylorMade moving forward is build out an experiential platform. To engage golfers on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis so they can experience our brands and products in new ways.
Where do you see the growth categories for TaylorMade?
My first three hours back here I went down to the R&D room to see what we were working on for the future. I spent four hours with our engineers. We work on technologies that are three, four, five, even six years out. Technologies that we feel can define our brand and products and how golf is played. Some of the technologies we can't commercialize yet. The future is bright for our product lines. We'll see solid growth in the metal-wood business and iron business, and we will strengthen our leadership there. We're growing our golf-ball business. We have hundreds of tour players around the world in our ball.
What about Adams?
It's taken us a while to get it positioned the right way, but we think we have it right now. It's a very friendly brand to play. What's misunderstood is that it is still a performance brand. It takes a lot of R&D and technology to make an easy-to-hit golf club. And in some cases, our tour players benefit from that.
What is one thing individuals can do to grow the game?
It's incumbent upon all of us as golfers to grow the game. To reach out to people of all skill levels. They're friendships for life and they are experiences that grow the game. There's a responsibility for us to play with those who are less skilled. This will bring more golfers to the sport along with all the formal initiatives. There's a lot of energy surrounding golf now. We need to capitalize on that positive energy rather than the negative things people are saying about the sport.
How important is social media in promoting your brand?
Short answer: It's critically important. To give golfers around the world access to Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, to actually interact with them. It's amazing. When you can interact with the world's best, it brings people in. It's wonderful for us as well. It plays a huge role in our marketing strategy and just in the industry in general. And it will be a major part of how we promote the game in the future.
When you got the new job and met with your staff, what was the first thing you told them "this is what we need to work on"?
It's funny you ask that because I actually asked myself that question. What's important to us is that we continue to push downfield on great technologies and bringing great technologies to market. We want to build an environment for our people and create something where people want to be associated with our brands. Are we relentlessly innovating in everything we do? We want all golfers to feel about our company like our employees do and our athletes do. Our success will be contingent on that.
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