When John Solheim took over the management of Ping in 1995, the change supercharged the company. He expanded the product line into metal woods, set up a rapid-delivery system to hold on to the company's position in the custom-fitting market and hired Ping's first advertising agency. He also divested several other operations that weren't directly related to the company's roots as a club maker.
Not long after, his own sons moved into management positions in the company.
"At our age, the third generation has a lot more influence than the second generation did at the same age," David Solheim observes. "That's a credit to the second generation for allowing us to get our hands dirty."Andy Solheim, 31, is director of customer relations. Domestic and international customer service, credit and club fitting and repair all fall under his aegis. Like his brothers (and his father, for that matter), he's never worked anywhere else. He says he learned what it means to be a Solheim early in his career.
"One time, I had just finished my master's degree and had helped do a video for a national sales meeting," Andy recalls. "I was just going to show up, watch the video then go back to the office, so I was wearing shorts and a casual shirt. My father gave me 'the look.' Fifteen minutes later, I had a suit on."John's oldest son, known as John K., is 33 years old and the one who inherited his grandfather's engineering talent. He holds an MBA as well as a degree in mechanical engineering. As vice president of engineering, he says, he has tried to expand the design function beyond the one-man-one-idea operation it was under Karsten. He's hired several design engineers with backgrounds in the sport and has concentrated on speeding the time to market for new products. One of the company's biggest changes came with the purchase -- at John K.'s urging -- of a supercomputer, which shortened the wait time for design analysis from 15 hours to 15 minutes.
"The Cray Supercomputer was one of those times when my dad and I were on the same page," John K. says. There were plenty of other times when they weren't, including several disagreements over product design. In fact, their relationship bears some resemblance to the one between Karsten and John, according to John K.: "We may have to name another road 'John's Way.' He has his own way of doing things."That may not bode well for the looming management transition from the second generation to the third, although John says he's working to ensure a smooth handover of operations.
"My dad was well into his 80s when he finally turned it over, and I don't intend for that to happen," John says. "I'm not in any hurry to leave, but, at the same time, we have to have the best person for the job. The family members have to compete with everybody else."The family is working with consultants to help them address succession issues.
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a romantic thriller about blood diamonds in the Congo