Our guest this episode is Tim Clarke from Chicago-based Wilson Golf. Tim has been the general manager of Wilson Golf since 2006, helping to re-establish the company as one of the top global brands in golf. To see the latest technology from Wilson Golf, visit their website.
Interviewer: Walter Lis. Running Time: 19:48
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Tim Clarke: I joined Wilson back in 1997. I came in from outside of the golf industry. I was hired and had an opportunity to join Wilson in the golf section as the financial account manager back when they were going through some major restructuring. I started out as national account manager for Wilson Golf. I moved in to the Pro Golf Group. I ran several different regions for the Pro Golf Group, basically through about 2001 and then to director of U.S. golf sales and then moved from there to director of sales and marketing for the golf division and then to the president of the golf division. Actually it was general manager of the golf division and then president of the golf division about 18 months ago.
Walter Lis: So then with such an extensive background being with the company and having all these different experiences and positions, can you talk a little bit about the business itself, about Wilson Golf and about really what, you know, it’s such a unique story and it’s got such a history and tradition. Can you give kind of like a little bit of a brief overview about the golf?
TC: Yeah. I think anytime you’ve got a company that’s withstood the test of time in a very dynamic and very ever-changing industry it’s quite a story. In January we just enjoyed our 100 year celebration of Wilson Sporting Goods and when I came into Wilson it was kind of in a little bit of a turnaround mode back in ’95, ’96, ’97 there, and then we had some more class products come out. We had a great run of Wilson staffs with the fat shafts and the staff titanium golf ball, and then unfortunately through some leadership changes and probably some philosophy changes, the path which I was with the company was, I think that was one of the things I brought to the party was I had seen the company on an exceptional path and I had seen a lot of the mistakes that were made that derailed it. We had an exciting, you know, turnaround here and the last five years have been nothing but growth and upside, especially focused on the U.S. market.
So that’s kind of the golf side of it. From the brand side of it it’s an iconic sports equipment company and it’s a world known brand and that really is a testament of the years when you look at, you know, say, competitors when you look back through the fact that, you know, McGregor used to be a major competitor of Wilson, not only in golf space but in other categories. Now they’re basically owned by Golfsmith. You used to talk about Tommy Armour and Ram both based here in Chicago in their heydays back in 1980. They’re now house brands for sports authority, so it’s a dynamic business.
I think that we’ve tried to strive, and, again, I have a wonderful team with me through this process. But we’ve really pushed on at the fact that this is a continuous improvement, and any time you get to a point where you think that you can sit back on your laurels and everything will be fine, it just doesn’t work that way and if you have any doubts about that you just look at the wonderful brands that had a great presence in golf, Ben Hogan, the Tommy Armour brand, and the list is long that are no longer in play. It’s an honor and privilege to be part of a great brand. I think it’s more humbling to be the guy at the helm during the 100 year celebrations.
WL: Now, in addition to the 100 years and the way the company has stood the test of time, I think one of the things that makes me proud as a Chicagoan and to have this iconic Chicago Golf Company kind of representing us, bearing the Wilson brand and the Wilson Staff brand, can you talk a little bit about the success of the players that you’ve represented over the years? I know that there’s been so many iconic players that have been part of the Wilson brand but you’ve also won an unprecedented amount of major championships. Can you talk a little bit about that, like the success that your players have enjoyed?
TC: Yeah, and I think, you know, when you think of golf and if you’re a golfer and a passionate golfer and you’re over 45 years of age, I mean, the iconic black and white staff bag, you know, the Arnold Palmer one. I had the honor and the privilege of meeting Joe Phillips who was our tour representative for a number of years and was a member of my old Country Club. He passed away a few years ago, but he was like legendary for the business and got into the hall of fame.
It’s interesting because I think the thing Wilson has done so well has been such an interesting proper balance throughout time of world class players that articulate not only what your brand is doing but also help you to get better, but it’s also the ability to attract talent in the building to work on the brand and to bring new fresh ideas and look for ways to enhance your position, and it’s the fact that I accept that we’re a Midwest brand who have truly stood the test of time in golf and obviously other sports.
We’re climbing the mountain in golf which is so exciting, but on the other side of the coin is every other brand in the portfolio which I compete with in my own building is a number one acute player. If you look at tennis, the NFL game ball, the NCAA basketball, our baseball division with, you know, the A2000, so I’m in an elite class which I think is what really helps Wilson as a company is that we have such great businesses and there is a very friendly competition and, trust me, you know, we’re at a point now where we’re starting to surpass other guys in our performance.
WL: Now, I know when the brand first started back in the day for a long time the Wilson family was still involved. Is there still a Wilson family connection to the brand?
TC: The Thomas E. Wilson family, there is no family influence whatsoever anymore. I’m not even sure when they truly disconnected. I think it was kind of severed back when the brand was sold to PepsiCo. It was part of Pepsi Cola, the company, and that was when it kind of had, you know, not really a lot of changes but it did go through a pretty rough period during that tenure.
(To Be Continued)