Head revitalizes US ski operations

Posted By: Steve Bellamy on May 13, 2010 12:00 am

How many beads do you have to have on your abacus to count the number of cool things happening at Head Winter Sports of late?  What comes after a Gajillion???  There is no doubt that the brand is on fire.  Scratch that…the brand is a freakin’ 12 alarm, raging inferno.  Without dissing the brand of the last few years, if you were an industry insider it was clear that it just wasn’t firing on all cylanders.  It was the wrong time to play “how skinny can we make our skis and for how long?”  Well they won that battle…they made the skinniest skis for the longest amount of time.  Of course only 7 people are still buying skinny skis, but who cares – they won the ribbon to hang in the Head lobby.  Maybe the epiphany came after their last model, the Toothpick 2000.  They were skis that were actually skinnier than the skiers poles. 

So what happened?  Starting at the top… most people outside of VC’s think consolidation is a bad thing.  In this instance all we have to say is- NOT!  After Dave Haggerty left the company last year, long time Head Tennis racquet hucker Kevin Kempen was given the nod to run both the racket sports division and the winter sports division.  Although Kempen is and has been for quite some time, a business luminary in the tennis world shepparding relationships with fairly impactful players like Marat Safin, Andy Murray, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf…the brother lives in Utah!  I repeat, the brother lives in Utah!  So even though, the new sled peddler can chip and charge with the best of them, he also has ski DNA to the core.  The guy probably has got as much or more experience navigating the waters of retailers, associations and athletes as anyone from his decades in tennis.   He now comes into the ski world while a lot of his competitors are tired of walking the floor and shaking the hand of Bert at Ernies Ski Shop of Tuscaloosa.  And as an aside, Head just reported off the charts quarterly tennis numbers.  Probably can’t give Kempen all the credit, but he has been running US tennis for a long time.

Next up comes Jon Rucker as the newly appointed Director of Sales and Marketing.  They don’t get much smarter, much more dialed in nor much more forward thinking.  He’s got deep industry pedigree and brings unparalleled gravitas to the gig.  The cat is a flat out Ghuru.  And yes, we used an “h” in “Ghuru.”  Don’t ever decide to have a “Devil Went Down To Georgia” guitar hero’off with the guy as he is a hardcore bluegrass picker to boot.  Then yesterday they announce that Ben Durmmond has been added to run the newly formed Head USA Race Department.  The Tecnica/Blizzard graduate is dialed into the race thing which brings us to the next chapter of Head holy cow…

We are now only getting warmed up on the Head groovidom.  Is there a day that doesn’t have a bunch of press releases coming from the Head camp about new athletes?  Geez Freekin Laweese, these guys are signing everybody.  Uh when you start with one of the coolest athletes in the history of sports, Bode Miller and then you add Buck Hill turned Vail hill slider Lindsey Vonn – you are supposed to say “OK, we won!  Lets go to the beach.”  But not these monopolists.  They just added Ted Ligety.  Then they added Werner Heel.  Keep em coming…they signed Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud. That is just in the last week!  That is in addtition to all their other rock star athletes like Jon Olsson and the Hermanator (he still counts.)

Here’s why we give these guys the hugest of high fives.  Obviously, this has been a challenging few years.  But just like we high five the hell out of Jeanne Mackowski at Aspen who has preached spending through the recession, Head is really investing  They are adding great executives.  They are adding departments and they are adding athletes.  You can’t save your way out of a recession.  It is the greatest time in our lifetimes to spend and invest.  Head is doing that in spades.  And it will reap the benefits. 

Combine all this top notch management, a who’s who of endorsers and new skis like…the “Chubby Checkers,” “the Fat Bottomed Girls, “”Fats Dominoes,” “the Fat Alberts and the “Have you seen my bikini bottoms”…and you have a new paradigm for a storied brand.  These guys were sitting in the back of the class with Arnold Horshack and it looks like they are moving to the Head of the class with Elle Woods.

Rock on fair Head friend.  Your founding father Howard Head would be very proud!

FYI:  as you might notice, there is no picture of the management team posing like goons at a bad convention.  That’s because this wasn’t a press release turned story.  This wasn’t a PR person pitching.  There are no quotes from any of them, because we didn’t even call them.  This is just writers reporting news about the people who are making it.  And, today it is Head!


Photo:http://www.flickr.com/photos/tombothetominator/ / CC BY-SA 2.0