The way Thomas Yang gets around certainly suggests that he has the credentials to do the job as senior international vice president for a major golf equipment company.
He is of Chinese descent, but was born and raised in Japan before immigrating to Canada, where he is still a citizen despite living in Encinitas, Calif., with his family, close to head office at Callaway Golf in Carlsbad.
After going to school in the United States, Yang has had professional stops in Toronto, Vancouver, Spain, Saudi Arabia, London, Oakland, Hong Kong, Japan and Seattle, working for companies such as Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Clorox and Proctor & Gamble, a diversified background that includes packaged goods.
“You’re talking about selling millions of units every year and it moves constantly versus Starbucks, which was a branded retail business. That was a completely different experience,” said Yang, adding that he gets a little bit of both with Callaway, a company he joined in July, 2006.
“The golf industry is kind of a mixture of those in the sense that we have fast-moving goods like balls, gloves and those things, which constantly move, to more hard goods, where the purchase cycle is much longer,” he said.
“At the same time, it’s all branded, it’s very much lifestyle and very focused around the retailing environment,” added Yang on a recent visit to Callaway Golf Canada headquarters in Toronto.
“The Proctor & Gamble, the Clorox type of fast-moving goods were very much about functionality, product performance, whereas Coca-Cola was all emotional, lifestyle,” he said.
“The golf industry is a combination. You’ve got the performing hard goods stuff that you’ve got to have, but at the same time, aspirational lifestyle image and the retailing environment. It’s been a good accumulation of experiences.”
That vast experience will come in handy considering the state of the global economy, but Yang appears confident that is only a temporary situation. He believes there is a positive outlook for markets outside of the United States.
“I think almost every industry you look at, international growth is still potentially huge, partly because of a lot of emerging markets coming up from Eastern Europe to Asia, where you’ve got China. India is another area,” he said.
Each of those areas are in the process of being introduced to new products from around the world, compared to more sophisticated markets in North America, Japan and many parts of Europe.
“What international brings is the combination of stable businesses, plus the growth potential,” he said, while admitting at the same time that the rest of the world has not been protected from the recession that first hit the United States, as well as other pockets in the world such as the United Kingdom.
“Last year, if you had asked me, I would have said yes. Last year, definitely the U.S. economy was kind of leading the recession, with exceptions,” he said.
“The rest of the world was somewhat shielded from what was happening in the U.S. last year, but that’s not the case anymore. I think Q4 last year, it pretty much hit everyone,” said Yang, who feels that the worst is now over.
“My personal belief is that, as humans and consumers, you get tired of all the negative news after a while. We’ve been bombarded with negative news,” he said.
“My sense is that we may be surprised that things are going to get a little bit better than most people think. At least now, you’re starting to read a little bit more positive things in the media.”
If and when that upturn in the economy does happen, the climb out of the economic pit will be led by the country that was first hit, which will be a psychological positive sign for other countries and regions, according to Yang.
“In this situation, the United States has to lead,” he said. “When Europe and Japan see the U.S. starting to turn around, they’re going to feel, `Okay, we’re going to be okay too,’” said Yang, who believes Canada has weathered the economic storm quite well.
“For me being a Canadian, I’m a little bit proud of the fact that the Canadian economy has held on better. No doubt, it’s downward, but I think the Canadian banking system is healthier, plus the Canadian economy is balanced between manufacturing and commodities,” he said.
From a Callaway perspective, Canada is a leader in another department that will serve the company well, both now and into the future when the economy is better. According to Yang, several marketing concepts are being studied and considered by company reps in other parts of the world, including the United States.
“Canada is one of our largest markets outside the U.S. That’s very important to us, but I think what’s also important over the last couple of years is a lot more innovation coming out of Canada,” he said.
“Product innovation comes from our R&D, but innovation is more than just product and, for us to continue to grow as a brand and as a company, we need to innovate in all aspects. Canada has done an outstanding job over the last couple of years in innovating how to connect with the consumer.”
Yang specifically mentions the My Callaway, Free Lessons and What’s My Callaway programs, in addition to the Golf In Schools program it runs in Ontario, with rumours suggesting that may be expanded nationally in the near future.
“Those things are innovative stuff that Canada has done that we are looking at leveraging across different parts of the world,” said Yang.