Mark King leaves big shoes to fill at TaylorMade

Current TaylorMade CEO Mark King has been promoted to be the President of Adidas Group North America.
Current TaylorMade CEO Mark King has been promoted to be the President of Adidas Group North America. ( Tracy Wilcox )

Friday, April 18, 2014

Big shoes to fill.

That is perhaps the shortest summation of the promotion of Mark King, who will leave TaylorMade Golf – effective June 1 – to become president of Adidas Group North America.

It was announced Thursday that King will be replaced by 40-year-old Englishman Ben Sharpe, who for the past six years has been managing director of TaylorMade-Adidas Golf in Europe.

Adidas owns TaylorMade, so it's not as if King is abandoning the company that has his fingerprints all over it. King, 54, joined TaylorMade right out of college and has spent the bulk of his professional career with the company.

King became president of TaylorMade in 1999. He quickly launched a series of decisions and mandates that raised TaylorMade's visibility and profitability.

• TaylorMade sales zoomed from about $349 million in 1999 to more than $1.7 billion in 2013.

• Under King's guidance, TaylorMade's presence and success on the PGA Tour increased dramatically. Based on official equipment counts at each tournament, TaylorMade has been the No. 1 driver on the PGA Tour for more than 10 years.

• King oversaw an aggressive marketing scheme, featuring PGA Tour players and promising significant performance benefits. Numbers were King's friends – if Justin Rose gained 17 yards with a new fairway wood, consumers were going to hear about it.

• He pushed the boundaries of adjustable golf equipment. Once adjustability was given the green light by the U.S. Golf Association, King decided to move full speed ahead with various adjustable-weight schemes.

• Along the way, King hired scientists and engineers who loved golf. TaylorMade became known for its abundance of brainy golf guys, and King never abandoned this principle. He never wavered from his steadfast philosophy: great people, great products.

• In fact, new golf clubs were designed so rapidly that King escalated the unveiling of these products. This new cycle of multiple introductions per year would change the way golf companies do business.

Of all the rivalries involving contemporary golf companies, the one between TaylorMade and Callaway is probably the most hotly contested. The two companies, located just a few blocks apart in Carlsbad, Calif., historically have been as different as balata and Surlyn.

King's troops always played a lot of golf. TaylorMade is the only company with multiple wins in Golfweek's Industry Cup, which matches dozens of golf companies in team competition.

King himself is an excellent golfer who plays in a number of golf tournaments each year.

It came as no huge surprise in 2012 when Callaway hired a new chief executive, Chip Brewer, with the same type of competitive background and golf acumen as King.

King, the benevolent golf general, set the tone for the California golf industry culture.

King has been heavily involved in efforts to bring new players to golf. He pledged $5 million from TaylorMade for a Hack Golf campaign to encourage beginning golfers. He also is a member of the PGA of America task force that will study methods of increasing participation.

Because King has been a high-profile public spokesman for growing the game, his role will continue.