September 01, 2017

National Golf Foundation: 5 Questions with Bridgestone Golf CEO Angel Ilagan

Angel Ilagan took over as president and CEO of Bridgestone Golf just over one year ago, moving into the golf industry after 30 years of successfully developing and growing businesses in leadership roles with companies such as Vera Bradley, Pandora Jewelry, Newell Rubbermaid, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Conagra, and General Mills.

The National Golf Foundation recently sat down with Ilagan to discuss how strategic leadership carries across industries, Bridgestone’s positioning in the golf marketplace, his ties to the sport, mentorship and the continuing evolution of the retail sector in golf.

What have been your biggest successes and challenges from Year 1 with Bridgestone Golf?

Coming into this, like in some of the previous industries I've been in, I walked into an industry where the focus wasn't on business and wasn't focused on the majority of the consumers, the majority of the golfers. What we did was develop a strategy by which we were being true to our Bridgestone mission, which is serving the golfing community with superior products. When I was being interviewed for this position, it was just well-known that Bridgestone golf balls and golf ball performance was one of the best kept secrets in the industry, to the point where players who are more technical knew we had a superior product but the consumer had no idea how much better our product was than the competition. So with that challenge actually brought the successes, like signing Tiger Woods. He’s an equipment golf ball junkie. Signing him, and not really based on his experience of performance and accomplishments on the tour, but just his endorsement value is just tremendous for us. It really has convinced the consumers of our competitors to take a look at our product and we’re seeing a significant amount of conversion from that. It was also refocusing on serving the end golf consumer, the golfer, rather than taking care of the establishment if you will. There’s been a strong business performance here. In a category where most of our competitors are seeing declines year over year, we’re seeing significant growth.

It is encouraging, but true to form, our team isn’t satisfied. And we’re probably not going to be satisfied until we’re triple our size, and probably not even then. We could have sold a lot more product, but we've been taking a pretty conservative approach to where we’re at. We’re seeing the pendulum swing to our advantage. We’re seeing a large increase in awareness of brand. We've taken what was considered a disadvantage – which is we have a wide range of products – and we’re focused on all of them equally, because each one serves a different segment, a different level of golfer.

Is there an advantage in coming to your role from outside the golf industry?

I think so. We've had people in the past come in from outside the organization – my head of sales came from the pharmaceutical, nutritional business and he brought that whole aspect to it.

The industry has been very slow to change and they’re doing the same things today, in general, that they've been doing for the last 30 to 40 years. Coming in here and taking mostly a business approach to it, as well as a consumer approach, it’s really benefited us. Now the entire organization has really geared toward serving that community and really the focus is on the end golfer. That basically allows for more inclusion than exclusion. When you think about how the golf industry has operated, it’s really excluding the majority of the golfing population because it’s really focused on the golf community or the elite player – the top 1 percent.

We want to have more and more people enjoy this game. Because that’s the only way the category is going to grow. And we need to focus on making people not only play better, but enjoy the game even more. The majority of consumers want to just go out there and enjoy themselves and have a good time. They’re not necessarily concerned with the financial aspects of the game. It’s nice to take that kind of perspective and know who your audience is and who you’re serving.


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