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Sports manufacturing and marketing career was forged in tool business
Published September 30, 2002
Scott Hennessy plays tennis. He's an enthusiastic runner. But he wasn't a golfer. In fact, he was kidded by his colleagues for avoiding the game during off-site meetings. So, how did he get hired as the president of the world's No. 1 manufacturer of golf shafts?
Nearly seven years into the job, Hennessy says it happened because he kept his eye on learning to "tee up" fundamentals of product development, brand marketing and distribution across many product categories. The golf opportunity came along following 14 years of sales experience at the Black & Decker Corp., where Hennessy had worked since graduating from the University of Delaware in 1980.
Today, the company he runs, True Temper Sports, is no longer a subsidiary of Black & Decker. It was spun off in 1998. But Hennessy, 43, credits Black & Decker's culture of mentoring young executives and "zigzagging" them through the company's various divisions with giving him the credentials to become a senior executive.
Since taking over True Temper's sports business, Hennessy has guided steady growth from a $65 million operation to one that accounted for $110 million in revenue last year.
Not only was Hennessy never a golfer, he wasn't exactly a sports guy in his professional life, either. By the early 1990s, he carried the lengthy title of vice president of sales and marketing for worldwide accessories and fastening products. His was a world of hot glue guns, electric saw blades and the Power Shot, an award-winning electric stapler. It also was a profitable part of Black & Decker's world, generating about $300 million in sales.
It was Hennessy's performance at this stage of his career that made him a candidate and, eventually, the choice for a division presidency. He was appointed vice president of worldwide sales and marketing with True Temper in 1994, reporting to CEO Nolan Archibald, and promoted to president and general manager in January 1996.
The road there was long. Hennessey moved constantly in the early years at Black & Decker, from Philadelphia to Baltimore to Chicago to Houston, back to Baltimore and, finally, to Memphis, home of True Temper.
When he was not awaiting the arrival of another moving van, Hennessy was launching and building brands, or coordinating regional sales efforts through a team of managers that dealt directly with the major retailers, such as Ace Hardware, Home Depot and Tru-Value Hardware. This was practical sales and marketing experience within the framework of a company that forced its successful sales people to touch a variety of products and businesses.
Hennessy's message to young professionals attracted to careers in the sports manufacturing or sports marketing fields is, essentially: Forget about sports. The proving grounds are likely to be found elsewhere.
Whether it is golf or tennis or a professional franchise marketing a team to potential ticket buyers, "it's still a business, and you need business skills," Hennessy said. "I would recommend that ... entry level [age groups] go with companies that have good, robust training programs. Look for [companies] that will give you good business discipline."
Hennessy said his industry often lacks homegrown talent and looks to outsiders for branding and marketing expertise.
The reality is that sporting goods sales are driven much more by intangibles than are the sales of everyday consumer staple products. People probably can be convinced they need paper towels, but a new set of golf clubs is a different story.
"You need to be able tap into that consumer psyche and be able to differentiate your product and your brand, and sometimes those nuances are quite subtle," Hennessy said. "You'll see that a lot of big [sports] companies are starting to intersperse people from [outside]. Callaway brought someone into product development that had a background at Disney. TaylorMade has brought people in who have backgrounds at Coca-Cola."
Whether it's sports, theme parks or carbonated beverages, Hennessy said, innovation is sometimes the only catalyst for true growth in a business that can be healthy one year and stagnant the next. He noted that True Temper is more than 100 years old and pleased with its command of market share (specifics of which it wouldn't release). Yet, in the sports manufacturing business, nostalgia doesn't play well.
"Last year, 35 percent of our sales came from products that were less than two years old," Hennessy said. "So it is definitely a new-products business, even though it seems to be built on a much more traditional sales base."
For example, in 2002 True Temper developed the BiMatrix Rocket, which features a specially designed high-launch tip section to optimize launch angles for maximum distance and carry, and the TX-90, considered one of the lightest steel shafts in the industry. The TX-90 is manufactured from a revolutionary new steel alloy developed by True Temper's R&D department.
Hennessy became a firsthand user of True Temper's shafts. When he took the job seven years ago, he signed himself up for a series of intensive golf lessons, hoping to eliminate perceptions that he knew nothing about the game.
"Not that I'm a great golfer now, but I certainly can play recreational golf," Hennessy said. "I can regularly break 100."
Not bad for a tennis guy.
Title: President and CEO
Company: True Temper Sports
Education: University of Delaware, B.S., business administration, 1980
Career path: Black & Decker: sales, 1980; sales manager, 1981; national accounts manager, 1984; regional sales manager, 1985; director of national accounts, 1986; marketing manager, 1988; vice president of sales, marketing and product development, 1990; True Temper Sports (former Black & Decker subsidiary): vice president of worldwide sales and marketing, 1994; president and CEO, 1996
Jed Hughes (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing director of Spencer Stuart Sports Leadership Practices.