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Callaway, Ely, Jr. - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Ely Callaway, Jr.

golf club company inc

(1919-)
The Callaway Golf
Company, Inc.

Overview

Ely Reeves Callaway, Jr. became a famous entrepreneur during the ‘Third Act’ of his life. Past age sixty, after having made fortunes in two different businesses, textiles and wine-making, his Third Act included creating The Callaway Golf Company, Inc., and manufacturing perhaps the most famous line of golf clubs in the world: the Big Bertha, made of oversized hickory wood, reinforced with a revolutionary tungsten-titanium rod core. Callaway’s genius for selling good products, using a story line, didn’t falter. He claimed he named his new golf clubs after the famous World War I cannon that could drop a shell on a target six miles away. He said he had re-invented the golf club by using gun-barrel production techniques and new exotic metals. Beginning this company in the seventh decade of his life, by 1994, when he was age seventy-five, Callaway’s golf company had become the largest of all his competitors, with an annual revenue, in 1996, of $678 million.

Personal Life

Ely Reeves Callaway, Jr. was born June 3, 1919 in La Grange, Georgia. He came from a background of wealth and influence, with a family history tracing back to fifteenth century England. This allowed Callaway to grow up comfortably in the small community where most of his relatives owned most of the businesses, and Callaway began playing golf at local country clubs at the age of ten. Later, doing well in his education, he went on to graduate in 1939 from Emory University with a baccalaureate in American History.

During his life Callaway was married four times and has three children from his first marriage: Reeves, Nicholas and Lisa. His current wife, Lucinda Villa Callaway, was the only one he married who was over the age of thirty. Callaway is a self-described life-long Democrat in his politics. He eats “only healthful food,” according to Inc. Magazine, and was described by them when interviewed, as a man who was lean, dignified, and aristocratic in bearing.

His social activism has been long-standing, with ongoing trusteeship roles with the United Negro College Fund, the New York Council of Boy Scouts, the Menninger Foundation, and Hampshire College.

Career Details

From his youth in that small community, Callaway appeared to assume he would succeed in business, and in life. According to one story of him, written in Town and Country magazine, a friend was quoted as saying that: “Ely’s talent . . . was primarily as a human motivater . . . he had a gift for finding the right kind of people and turning their creative talents loose. He also had an uncanny sense of what the public wanted.”

In June of 1940 Callaway joined the army as a Reserve Officer, and quickly rose to the rank of a commissioned officer. He remained in the United States during World War II, working with the Army’s Centralized Procurement Agency, in apparel procurement for military troops. Reaching the rank of Major by the age twenty-four, Callaway became the Army’s sole procrement officer for cotton clothing. During war-time, Callaway had learned virtually everything about the cotton apparel industry.

In 1945, Callaway left the Army and rose quickly to high positions in the textile industry, based on his wide war-time knowledge of textiles and his many personal contacts built during World War II. He joined the textile firm of Deering, Milliken and Company in Atlanta. Later, he moved to New York City where he accepted a position with Textron. Textron was soon purchased by the world’s largest textiles manufacturer, Burlington Mills and in 1968, Callaway was named as that company’s president and director. He abruptly quit in 1973 when he was not made a full Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Burlington Mills. He walked away swiftly from Burlington Mills, not looking back, a multi-millionaire by that time, and told INC. Magazine that he had only one bad week or so, “grieving.”

Callaway moved to California soon after he left Burlington Mills, where he had purchased 150 acres of land in the San Diego/Palm Springs area, some years beforehand, which he had started cultivating and bottling wine that went from good to great. The Callaway Vineyard and Winery grew to a world-class enterprise in four short years, and the wine, with his personal connections in New York, was soon being served in such elegant restaurants as the Four Seasons and ‘21’. In 1981, he sold the wine business for a $9 million profit to Hiram Walker Corporation, which has continued to make Callaway wines as he had made it.

Still restless for work at the age of 60, Callaway looked for new opportunities. Returning to his favorite pastime, the game of golf, he gradually began, as he told INC. Magazine, to ‘re-invent’ the 250-year-old golf club. He sought to make it more user-friendly, assuming that if the club was easier to swing, with a larger face-surface, that one might play a better game of golf.

In Palms Springs, California, in 1983, Callaway found a small company in financial trouble that was making a fine golf club; the club was old-fashioned looking, with a big hickory shaft, with a titanium-metal rod core. Callaway quickly invested $2.5 million, bought out the company, gave it his name, and his great courage of promotion. With some refinements to the club, he came out with, and promoted a new golf club, the Big Bertha, which might be seen as the equivalent of an oversize tennis-racket for golfers.

As he did with his wine business, he carefully marketed his upscale golf-clubs, and equipment, to upscale players of the game. He made sure, for instance, that President William Clinton, President George Bush, The British Prince Andrew, and a variety of celebrity golfers, like Sean Connery and Jack Lemmon, as well as most of the important golf-playing CEO’s in America used his clubs and talked about them.

In a short time, by 1994, his company/corporation was offered publicly on the New York Stock Exchange and had gained world dominance in golf clubs, exceeding Spalding, Wilson, Taylor-Made, and MacGregor.

Callaway has continued to pursue Research and Development of his golf products, including an upcoming new line of golf balls, and in 1997, at age seventy-eight, was still on the job everyday. He told INC. Magazine, “In order to be successful, you can’t be afraid to fail: fear of losing is what inhibits most people.”

Social and Economic Impact

Callaway was quoted in the July 17, 1995 Los Angeles Times, describing his business style this way: “I’m a merchant, someone who recognized a need for an improved product, then created it. But it must be a consumer product that was demonstrably superior to the competition, and pleasingly different. Then, I marketed the hell out of it.”

Quoted once again, from the Los Angeles Times, July 17,1995, Callaway said, of his business strategy: “The funny thing was…there was no grand vision of three careers and big fortunes. I just started out one little step at a time and hoped it worked. Luck was a big piece of it. Not so much good luck but the absence of bad luck.” His strategy was, in his own eyes, part luck and part “marketing the hell out of it.” This strategy has worked as he was quoted as the highest paid executive in the state of California in 1995 with an annual salary of over $1.8 million.

Chronology: Ely Callaway, Jr.

1919: Born.

1939: Graduates from Emory University.

1940: Joins the Army.

1968: Becomes president of Burlington Mills.

1973: Founds The Callaway Vineyard and Winery.

1981: Sells The Callaway Vineyard and Winery.

1983: Promotes new golf club, the Big Bertha.

1994: Gains world dominance in golf club sales.

1994: Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine.

When he was involved in textiles, Callaway went to the top and became director of the world’s largest fabric mills; Burlington. As a vintner, Callaway developed a variety of California wines-in an unlikely area of southern California where they continue to be made today, regarded as world class in quality. As the CEO of Callaway Golf Company, Inc., he had improved the quality of an “antique” sports tool, the golf club, and by bringing to the club a high technology challenge, had opened up again a competitive industry in golf-related products.

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