For whatever reason, I seem to be around John Solheim at significant, often historic, moments.
Nearly eight years ago, the chairman and chief executive officer of Ping travelled to Canada for a product introduction at Toronto’s St. George’s Golf and Country Club, but events of a greater magnitude elsewhere in the world distracted the gathering as the morning progressed.
The date was Sept. 11, 2001, a bright and sunny day in Toronto, but one that grew darker as we gathered around the television.
With air traffic over the United States at a standstill, the Ping crew had to make alternative travel plans back to Phoenix, but the look on Solheim’s face was well beyond inconvenience. Like the rest of his countrymen, his concern was the well-being of his country, family and friends.
The solemn mood that day was in direct contrast to the next time I saw Solheim a couple of months later at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla, where his dad, Karsten Solheim, was inducted posthumously after a lifetime of innovation that has been a foundation in Ping’s success.
I ran into John at the reception afterwards. As is his way, he was standing off to the side, away from the crowd and, as we chatted, he was at once just a guy who missed his dad, who had passed away a year earlier, and one so proud of the honour just bestowed upon his father.
Just a few years ago, he seemed well on his way to a full recovery just months after receiving a new kidney, which likely explained his jovial mood that day at Ping’s Canadian headquarters as he explained what had transpired with the surgery before getting into what was happening with the company at the time.
What’s happening with the company now is its 50th anniversary, with celebrations kicking off at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando at the end of this month, when a birthday party is planned the first day of the show, while the Ping booth will offer a trip back in time to the company’s humble beginnings.
New products will commemorate this special occasion and a keepsake book, yet unnamed, will be published during a year in which several celebrations are planned.
I will likely run into John Solheim again at the 50th anniversary party in Orlando, another special occasion in which I expect he will be all smiles as he accepts congratulations on a milestone that has extra meaning for a family-run business in a world of public companies.
The above anecdotes describe the human sides of John Solheim, which isn’t always easy to see due to his soft-spoken nature. He also doesn’t telegraph the various sides of his professional life, but has put them to good use over the years. Like his dad, John is an innovator and clubmaker, but also an astute businessman.
He studies and researches. He’s tough enough to make a difficult decision, but always willing to listen to his trusted advisors, which may be family members such as his son John K. Solheim, who is taking on an increasingly important role with the company as vice president of engineering.
As important as family is, the Solheim name isn’t a necessary requirement to grab his attention. The elder John Solheim is just as likely to listen to the opinions of other advisors, such as Canadians Dave Wilson, the company’s general manager in this country, and Pat Loftus, vice president of sales and marketing.
John brought many of the traits of his dad to the helm of the company, but also evolved with the times to keep Ping one of the best-known brands in golf in its 50th year of operation.
Like its current CEO and Karsten before him, the company is understated, but offers not only innovation in clubs, but renowned customer service, as well.
Say what you will about the Anser putter, EYE2 irons or TiSI driver, but perhaps the defining aspect of Ping as a company is its emphasis on clubfitting by qualified people.
Innovation and customer service are two aspects of the business that have been emphasized since the company was first born in a garage in Redwood City, Calif., in 1959. Half a century later, those two cornerstones have proven to be a solid foundation for this generation and others to come.
Be sure to check the Feature Stories section for more on Ping’s 50th anniversary.