Q&A With Ben Sharpe, New President of TaylorMade Golf

Q&A With Ben Sharpe, New President of TaylorMade Golf

Ben Sharpe spent six years as the managing director of TaylorMade in Europe and was executive vice president of Adidas Golf and Ashworth.
Courtesy of TaylorMade

In the last month, TaylorMade Golf released its first new products under the leadership of new CEO Ben Sharpe. Stepping into the role that Mark King left earlier in 2014, Sharpe was handed the keys to one of the biggest brands in the golf world. He sat down with Golf.com to discuss the first months on the job, how TaylorMade can evolve under his watch and answer what's up with all those new drivers.

You took 100 days at the beginning of your time as CEO of TaylorMade to step back and take a broad look at the company. What do you know now that you didn’t before?

A lot of things we’ve been doing are still very relevant, but we need to evolve and change a lot of things we’re doing to make sure they’re relevant. In terms of the feedback — from everyone really — is that they want us to be TaylorMade. They don’t want us to be conservative and predictable and boring. They want us to be the renegade, the innovator the leader and the people who can provide excitement about products. And I think if we’re being honest, in the course of 2014, we haven’t been the TaylorMade that had done such great things the prior 10 years. If there were four words that came out, they were innovator, renegade, leader and responsible.

How does being a renegade mix with being responsible?

Responsible in the way we bring things to market and how we help people to work together. We’ve had such a good run, but you only need to read the financial press and learn this year’s been a challenge for us. In terms of our products, we need to evolve. Everybody doesn’t get everything, and everybody doesn’t get large quantities, so that when we bring new products to market we can do it in a bold way without having a sludge of the old products that are diluting the impact of it.

You recently were quoted as saying that the most important part of your job was to make last year’s products obsolete with this year’s. Is that beneficial to consumers?

I think if you look at the electronics industry, they arguably have a shorter product life cycle than the golf industry … You have to make the product demonstrably more appealing than its predecessor. The performance has to be better, the aesthetics have to be more engaging and the way we bring it to market has to be more engaging. We want when a golfer sees a new product for the first time, they think, "I’ve got to have that." … We do need to be a lot better at managing a product through its life cycle so when it’s coming to an end there’s isn’t a whole lot out there, which is causing the current deflation.

So with these new products, you want to target the eager customer who wants to cycle through his bag every year.

Sometimes you can get carried away by the naysayers saying, “Oh another product.” But I’m not sure we’re getting the credit maybe we deserve in the last 12 months of slowing down our product life cycles … Now we’re hearing people going to retailers and asking, “When are you launching something? What’s new?” If you’re a retailer, you want your shop to evolve so regular customers are seeing something new. If they’re seeing the same stuff for a sustained time, then why are they going to come into your store? What’s the excitement there? We can be launching and creating excitement across our four brands, but what we don’t want to do is launch and create new products within the same brand or category repeatedly.

What’s your approach to filling the shoes of Mark King, a man whose done so much for the TaylorMade brand over the last two decades.

I’m not Mark King, and I don’t want to be Mark King. He’s a dear friend of mine, and he’s been a legend for our company and an icon in the industry. And many of the things he’s done to make this company great, I’m going to continue to do which is focus on products, the best players in the world playing those products and using innovative technology to launch those products in a big way … But with a fresh pair of eyes, I think I can bring a global perspective through the Carlsbad office to make sure we’re looking at all opportunities around the world to make sure we’re not only U.S.-focused.

Reports citing dips in golf participation, equipment buying, etc. keep coming out, but one of your mantras in the short time you’ve been the head man is to be positive. What pushes that positive thinking forward in lieu of the other current negativity surrounding some aspects of the sport?

We can either focus on what we have or worry about what we don’t. If you think about what you have, it’s a lot better … We’ve forgotten there are 20 million golfers who play in the U.S. and double that around the world. It is a sport that teaches respect, integrity and health. It’s got a great following on TV. Many people aspire to be part of. And there aren’t many sports in the world who can say that … We at TaylorMade will work with anybody who wants to share our love for the game. We tried it with Hack Golf, didn’t quite work because everyone thought that was a crusade from our company. It probably needs to be an independent body to do that. But we’re going to help the PGA with the likes of junior golf leagues and the First Tee. We’re going to keep Hack Golf site going and fund any interesting ideas that come along, but as an industry, we need to come together and talk positively because no one wants to be surrounded by losers. People want to be surrounded by positive winners. So that’s what we’re going to do, so I hope that the rest of the industry follows.

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