President & CEO
Textron Specialized Vehicles Inc.
Interview with Matt Ward
Kevin Holleran is president and CEO of Textron Specialized Vehicles Inc., a division of Fortune 500 company Textron Inc. that manufactures vehicles and equipment to serve a variety of industries worldwide. Under its Textron Golf umbrella, the company designs and manufactures E-Z-GO golf cars, Jacobsen turf equipment, and Cushman utility and hospitality vehicles for golf courses around the globe.
THE HOLLERAN STORY —
I grew up in New York and was always around the game of golf — even caddying for several years at Waccabuc Country Club in Westchester. I played occasionally on Mondays, when the course was closed, but didn’t really have the patience for the game as a youngster. I truly discovered golf in my years at Cornell University, when I was able to play the university’s Robert Trent Jones layout – a hidden gem in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York – for $75 a semester. I can vividly recall each hole in my mind – even today.
I now play about 35 times a year, and my home course is Augusta Country Club — where I’ve knocked my handicap down to an 8. I also belong to several other clubs in Georgia and South Carolina, including Sage Valley Golf Club, Secession Golf Club, East Lake Golf Club, Reynolds Plantation, and West Lake Country Club. My favorite day on the course to date has to be playing the Upper and Lower courses at Baltusrol on the same day — but my fondest memory is of carding birdies on holes 17 and 18 at Augusta National to shoot 79. That one’s hard to top.
My dream foursome is to bring three generations of men in my family together for a round: my 72-year-old father, 76-year-old father-in-law, 15-year-old son Ryan, and myself. I’ll get that opportunity this May, when everyone gathers for the high-school graduation of my eldest daughter, Katie, who will attend the University of Georgia this fall. I’m hopeful she will follow in her dad’s footsteps and discover the game herself at that university’s Robert Trent Jones course.
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MATT WARD: What lessons were learned by Textron Specialized Vehicles following The Great Recession?
KEVIN HOLLERAN: We learned very quickly we could not be “single-threaded” as a company. Although golf is core to our success and will always be a critical part of our business, we could not be overly reliant on a single industry to succeed. That lesson pushed us to invest and grow in a number of adjacent industries, from commercial utility vehicles to ground support equipment to consumer powersports products, so that we are better positioned to withstand pressures on any one industry.
MW: How much of a percentage is the golf category for Textron Specialized Vehicles?
KH: For competitive reasons, we can’t divulge the exact figure here. I can say the golf category is responsible for the largest portion of our revenues, although it represents less than half our sales across our company. That’s a far cry from 2008, when the vast majority of our sales were tied to the fortunes of golf.
MW: How much of your business within golf is tied to the USA market versus international?
KH: Again, we cannot disclose this information for competitive reasons. I can say the majority of our business is domestic, but our international business has been growing and is a key point of emphasis for us.
MW: One hears routinely about the importance of customer service — define the term and what steps Textron takes to ensure customer service is done sufficiently?
KH: We regard customer service as a differentiator for us. It really boils down to a mindset we work to ingrain in our corporate culture. We expect all of our employees to understand how their role affects our customers, and to put our customers’ needs first.
Customer service is not just the guy who shows up after the sale to repair or maintain a vehicle fleet – although our TechForceis incredibly important to us and to our customers. True customer service is listening to the customer’s wants and needs, and focusing your efforts across your company to exceed their expectations.
MW: What’s your take on the push by many golf clubs to either eschew golf cars – becoming walking only – or those that have embraced GolfBoards and other similar type products?
KH: There’s is room in the industry for different types of facilities and different ways to enjoy the game. With the demands on our time that we all face in today’s society, the majority of golfers are always going to prefer the speed and convenience of using a golf car. The golf car also enables older golfers, and people with limited mobility, to continue to play and enjoy the game much later in life. It also allows folks to enjoy the game in tougher weather conditions, whether it’s a place to get out of a steady drizzle between shots, or a chance to get a bit of a breeze on your face on a hot day. But there’s plenty of room for those folks who prefer to get a little more exercise, or just want to get around the course in a different way.
MW: Golf is going through myriad challenges — the most pressing is does the Millennial generation pick up the game to the level of earlier generations — namely baby boomers. How would you advise major golf organizations in attempting to grow the game in the 21st century?
KH: We have to be open-minded and willing to evolve as a sport and an industry. Golf is a proud sport, and it should be, but it can’t wrap itself too tightly in traditions that aren’t in keeping with today’s society. In a time when a nice pair of jeans can cost more – and look as good – as a pair of slacks, I’m still amazed at the number of clubs that cling to dress codes forbidding denim. We shouldn’t give up the sportsmanship and etiquette that make golf great, but we need to get with the times a bit.
MW: Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
KH: My father was a lifelong executive for IBM and continues to be the biggest influence on my life. He taught me so much about life and leadership, both from listening to his words and observing his actions. I learned how to treat people with dignity and respect, what it meant to have a work ethic, and how to relate to people of different backgrounds and experiences. He taught me how to bring humility, discipline, and a sense of fairness to leadership.
But the best advice he ever gave me was that if you have to get up and work for a living every day, you need to find a job that you love. You need to find people with whom you enjoy working, in a company you admire which makes products you’re passionate about, in industries with customers you can relate with. That advice fed my vision for my career from very early in life, and I used that advice to shape my career path and the decisions I have made to this point.
MW: Curious to know — how much do you play and when you do golf — how often do you take a golf car versus simply walking or taking a pullcart?
KH: I play about 35 rounds a year and use a golf car 80 percent of the time. Using a car helps me squeeze a round into three free hours when I can grab them. On the rare occasion that I get a little more time to play, or when I get to play with my family, I often opt to walk for the exercise and the experience. I also am fortunate enough to belong to a few courses with great caddy programs, like Sage Valley Golf Club, East Lake Country Club and Secession Golf Club, so when I play those courses, I always opt to walk with a caddy. It’s part of the experience at places like that.
MW: What specific product innovations is Textron moving ahead with in the golf area?
KH: We’ve invested heavily in new products and solutions in the golf space, and the industry will see many of those products emerge in 2017. We’re very excited about our new E-Z-GO ELiTE series of electric golf cars powered by Samsung SDI lithium battery technology. This technology is quite literally zero-maintenance, highly energy-efficient, and performs exceptionally on any course regardless of terrain. To be the first major industry manufacturer to bring the technology to market at a fleet scale – and at a price point that is very affordable to the customer – is a point of pride for us.
On the turf side, we’ve just introduced our new Jacobsen SLF530 superlight fairway mower, which provides courses with the industry’s best quality of cut on their fairways while exerting less ground pressure than a golfer’s foot. That’s important for reducing turf compaction and other impacts on course conditions.
And we continue to introduce new models of our Cushman utility vehicles, such as the Cushman Hauler PRO, which uses a 72-volt AC electric drivetrain to give superintendents and their crews the daily range to match a gas-powered utility vehicle, without the added noise and exhaust that detract from the golfers’ experience.
Finally, we’ve recently invested to acquire a company that provides GPS-based fleet-management solutions to the golf industry, allowing courses to track each vehicle’s performance, location, speed, pace of play, and other metrics in real time from the pro shop or cart barn. We’re excited about that technology and its potential to help golf course operators improve the efficiency of their operations, whether it’s used to optimize fleet maintenance or prevent loss or damage at their courses.
MW: The biggest challenge for Textron Golf both short and long term is what?
KH: We have to continue to put the customer first, listening to their needs and making sure that we’re keeping our talents and resources tightly focused on meeting those needs. That’s critically important at a time like now, when we are pulling separate organizations like Textron Specialized Vehicles, Jacobsen and Textron Fleet Management, with their own cultures and practices, into a single company.
If you’re not careful in times like these, you can get wrapped up in standardizing work procedures and business processes – losing sight of what’s needed to serve the customer. We’re being extremely careful to avoid that trap.
We also continue to invest for the long haul, identifying, developing and bringing to market new technologies and products that enhance the efficiency of the golf-course operation and the on-course experience of the golfer. Even the best R&D programs face challenges, because you have to read the tea leaves to make very smart investments with limited resources. That won’t get any easier, but given our recent track record of success in new product launches, I like our trajectory.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?