Since the company's inception in 1959, Ping has been a family-run business. The recent elevation of John K. Solheim, the oldest son of Ping chairman and CEO John A. Solheim, and grandson of company founder Karsten Solheim, to the next president of Ping maintains that continuity for the foreseeable future. John K. -- who served as executive vice president for the past two years after a four-year stint as president of Ping Golf Japan -- answers five questions from E. Michael Johnson.
- What did you learn in Japan that will help you in this new role?
"It's a much different business than Ping in the United States. Here we're engineering-based. In Japan it was more about marketing, operations and sales. We changed some things over there with our pricing and our marketing programs. A lot of time was spent on promoting the product and the brand. We didn't have good awareness over there. So I was able to hone my skills in those areas.
- What are some of the challenges in a market where everyone seems to want a product specifically for them?
"We're geared for special orders. Probably 50 percent of our club sales are special order and we ship them out in 48 hours. So we really like that trend. Certainly the breadth of our product lines have expanded. We have three versions of our driver, for example. Four different irons; four different bounces on our wedges, all the shaft flexes and lie angles. We're happy to do it in order to help our customers play better golf, but there's no doubt it adds complexity to the supply chain and managing inventories."
- Is being a privately-owned, family-run company an advantage, disadvantage or a little of both?
"I'd say a little of both. From the standpoint of being able to raise funds through a secondary offering or such, we don't have access to that. But there are far more positives than negatives. You can do what you want to do, not what you think you need to do to satisfy someone else. We're also very comfortable with the size of our business, so we don't have to constantly plan on year-over-year growth. If we do have that growth, that's gravy for us. We're in it for the long run, not some short-term gain. What we're doing is working and continues to work. We've been around since 1959, which now, is a pretty long time."
- How much runway do we have left in golf-club innovation?
"There are some roadblocks with the rules and patents, but we're very good at navigating those things to come up with new ideas. Turbulators were a good example of that. There wasn't much being done in the area of aerodynamics, and we addressed that. There's a lot of open space. There's some things we can't do right now, but once we get the manufacturing right, we'll be well-positioned to take advantage of it. There's still a lot of opportunity."
- What did you learn from your father or grandfather that will serve you well in your new role with the company?
"My dad is almost never happy with the design of a product. He's always challenging us to do better. It drove me crazy for many years, but I finally saw the reasoning behind it. It always leads to a better product. That was a good lesson. With Karsten, he was a great problem solver. You also never knew what to expect. So from a leadership standpoint, he kept everyone on their toes because they never really knew when he was going to swing by their desk. Everyone knew their work had to be good -- because he could show up at any minute and ask about what you were working on. He really got the best out of everyone. I hope to do the same."