He was the child who tagged along to the golf range with the neighbourhood’s older kids who had drivers’ licences. He was the boy who, at age eight, started playing at a nine-hole par-three golf facility in the middle of Connecticut, in the US’ southern New England, and tried his best to model after major championships winner Tom Watson’s swing.
Learning the different forms of playing golf right and understanding orthodoxies in golf traditions from childhood would lead to a profound love for the sport and a career involving it. He would later become CEO and president of TaylorMade Golf Company, one of the largest golf ball and equipment producers in the world.
David Abeles’ life story is deeply intertwined with golf and, to a meaningful extent, TaylorMade. He began his career there in ground sales, climbed the ranks, left twice and returned as president in 2015.
Abeles arrives at the business lounge of Le Méridien Kuala Lumpur looking smart and stylish, his striped golf shirt and navy fitted pants outlining his lanky frame. His energy and broad smile belie the long-haul journey he has just made. Based in TaylorMade’s global headquarters in Carlsbad, California, he is visiting KL for the brand’s latest launch of products that have been in development for five years, SIM (shape in motion) metalwoods — drivers, fairways and hybrids — and irons. “It’s my second time in Malaysia and people always complain about the heat, but that’s the part I love the most,” the 48-year-old says. “And tonight, I’ll apparently be tasting durian for the first time.”
TaylorMade comes into its own
TaylorMade is seeing a dramatic turnaround after a challenging run in the last decade as new competition emerged in the market with innovative products. The company was founded in 1979 in McHenry, Illinois. At the time, it sold only one product: a 12-degree, stainless steel driver. It had operated under the adidas umbrella from 1997 until 2017, when private-equity fund KPS Capital Partners acquired it from the German sportswear company. Abeles took the helm of TaylorMade in 2015 and the company started the separation process from adidas in January 2016. In May 2017, it was announced that KPS had acquired TaylorMade from adidas. The transaction was completed in October 2017. TaylorMade makes up about 10% of the private-equity fund’s portfolio.
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