John K. Solheim is often considered the heir apparent at Ping. Yet, he says,
"Talking to my dad, I don't get a lot of that. He hasn't anointed me. Both of my father's brothers retired at 65, but I'm not sure what the plan is for him." Andy says he'd like the CEO job, too. "I don't know what my dad's plans are," Andy says. "I look at the third generation, and most of us are pretty young."Leslie Dashew, a family business advisor in Scottsdale, says it makes sense for a business leader to take a cautious approach to succession decisions.
"When families are [carefully] thinking through this process, it provides a great deal of security to employees," she says. "If you want to run the business well, you run it like a business. You find the best talent. That may or may not be a family member."Doug Hawken, 58, Ping's non-family president and COO, says he's not privy to the succession planning but feels good about the prospects.
"We have a good balance of family members and non-family members at leadership levels," he says. Hawken might be considered a prospect to succeed John, but the two men aren't that far apart in age. Hawken says he only wants one thing: "Whoever takes on that leadership role at this company has to have the same passion as Karsten had and John has. You don't just assign somebody that passion -- they either have it or they don't."John turned the company around, streamlined it and worked through many of the rough spots, but there is still plenty of work to be done. Golf in the U.S. isn't a growing sport, but the international market is just waiting to be tapped.
As John K. points out, "In Japan, we don't even have 1% of the marketplace. And that's the second largest golf market in the world!"In recent years, Ping opened new assembly facilities in both Japan and Europe as part of its strategy to take its rapid delivery system to the international market.
There is also some low-hanging fruit domestically, according to John K.
"We've been a little slow to adjust to the market's move from green-grass [golf course pro shop] outlets to retail stores," he says. "They've really taken over the hard goods side of the business. We have great relationships with the golf course owners and operators, but, at the end of the day, the consumer isn't buying product there."Doug Hawken watched the generational transition from the vantage point of a non-family insider and offers a positive outlook for the future:
"Since John has taken control, we've returned to a good position within the marketplace," he says. "We've had four years of growth now, but he's willing to listen to the fact that we need to get our group together to go forward."This article appeared in Family Business Magazine, Summer 2008
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a romantic thriller about blood diamonds in the Congo