Longtime President and CEO, Wally Uihlein, has notified the Acushnet Board of Directors of his plan to retire, effective January 1, 2018.
Here are your requisite bullet points:
- Uihlein began his career with the Titleist parent company in 1976 and has been the senior executive since 1995.
- He will remain on the Board of Directors and will become Advisor to the Chairman.
- Uihlein will be succeeded by Acushnet’s current COO, David Maher.
- Maher was appointed COO in 2016 and has been with Acushnet since 1991.
While most recognizable as a golf ball brand, under Uihlein’s leadership Titleist has developed an immutable product-centric identity with a clear focus on the avid, and arguably, more accomplished golfer. Principled and consistent is how I would describe the Acushnet family of brands under Wally Uihlein.
A Changing Industry
Mr. Uihlein’s retirement marks the 3rd noteworthy leadership change within the golf equipment industry over the last several years.
When Chip Brewer took over the helm at Callaway from interim CEO Tony Thornley, he executed a business plan that would rapidly change the culture of the company and the disrupt the balance of power within equipment industry.
TaylorMade has endured two CEO changes since Mark King was assigned to adidas North America. Ben Sharpe’s tenure lasted barely six months before he was replaced by current CEO David Abeles. Over the last two years, the company has lost its leadership position in both metalwoods and irons (based on retail sales). Little of that is on Abeles who inherited a mess, and there are signs that the bumps are smoothing as company transitions from the adidas umbrella to KPS-owned.
Two, arguably three, significant leadership changes, two significantly different results. What can we expect from Acushnet under new leadership?.
Change at the top is almost always accompanied by change in other forms, but unlike the situations at Callaway and TaylorMade, Titleist’s identity will be firmly intact at the time of transition. That’s not to say there won’t be challenges ahead. We’ve discussed the changing nature of the ball market and its impact on Acushnet’s bottom line. It’s also likely that we’re only beginning to understand what public ownership means for the company.
Still, I’m not expecting any radical changes. Efforts to modernize the delivery of the brand message and re-engage with the core golfer are ongoing, and while the company will never make as much literal noise as some of its competitors, that too is part of its identity, and what many Titleist’s loyalists find appealing about the brand. These are efforts to upgrade, not overhaul.
Unlike Brewer and Abeles, Maher won’t be asked to chart an entirely new course. Steering around a few patches of turbulent waters, but otherwise mostly staying the course is the task at hand.
Haphazardous isn’t in the Achushnet vocabulary. There’s little doubt this transition has been planned for months, and with Acushnet’s identity is firmly rooted both corporately, and with the consumer, unlike the industry’s previous CEO changes there’s not the same degree of urgency or even necessity.
Because of that, while nether Uihlein’s contributions to the industry or the success of the Acushnet brand can be overstated, we expect the transition to a new CEO will likely be smooth and uneventful.
As far as the longer-term implications go, it’s far too soon to speculate.