Faldo Enterprises: Nick Faldo
The master of the green is once again changing the face of golf
“I’m a competitor,” says Nick Faldo. It’s modesty in its purest form: he’s inarguably a winner.
Britain’s greatest golfer, Faldo took six Majors in the ’80s and ’90s, – that’s comfortably more than any non-American on the planet. In a sporting world that uses the accolade too frequently and inexcusably cheaply, he’s a true legend. Faldo turns 50 next year, but he’s not about to start taking life easy. On course, he’ll captain the 2008 European Ryder Cup team; off it, he’s steering the growth of his burgeoning company, Faldo Enterprises.
Faldo likes to do things his way. In the mid-1980s, despite topping the European Order of Merit and becoming the Ryder Cup’s youngest player, he took the controversial decision to radically remodel his swing. He believed he could be technically better. He was savaged in the press during a couple of barren transitional years, but Faldo’s foresight and patience reigned victorious over his critics as he returned to win the ’87 Open Championship, top the world rankings and shatter the world annual earnings record.
Faldo maintains he always knew it was the right decision and is famous for being one of the sport’s great strategists. His strong opinions made him one of the foremost voices in golf and, on occasion, has incurred the wrath of his fellow professionals – not that he’s concerned. It’s unsurprising then that Faldo suffered several unsuccessful tenures with brand management companies before deciding to take matters into his own hands in 2003.
“I wanted the control to build my own relationships with companies,” he says. “With management agencies, it often feels like you’re a pawn and they’re simply using you to make themselves look good.”
Faldo Enterprises umbrellas his four prime areas of interest: golf course design; corporate events; The Faldo Trust, a registered charity set up in 1996 to help develop future professionals; and the development of the Faldo brand, through his various media work.
As his playing schedule becomes less intense, Faldo the golfer admits he’s on the way to becoming Faldo the entrepreneur. “I’m like a young Arthur Daley,” he jokes, before shifting tone. “We have clear strategies for expansion, and I’m very focussed on growing the business.”
A Brave new world
The sporting strategist and thinking man’s golfer, Faldo was never likely to fly into business gung-ho, as is the tendency of many who think their sporting success will automatically transcend to business. He does think the skills he harnessed as a sportsman transfer favourably to life in business, however.
“As a golfer you have good assessment skills, you are able to quickly assess situations and must be a strong decision maker,” he says. “It’s very much the same in business.”
A former carpet fitter, Faldo’s CV is hardly Harvard material though. There’s no shortage either of potential business partners happy to hitch a ride on the back of the Faldo name – sporting stars as illustrious as Pélé have been reduced to the point of financial ruin by poor or unscrupulous advice.
“I’ve met a lot of people who are looking to take advantage,” he acknowledges. “But now I’ve got a team of people committed to the Faldo cause – to the company, not just me.”
Faldo clearly values experience as well as loyalty. The two linchpins of his operation are both industry veterans. Iain Forsyth takes the role of MD and looks after the growing corporate events arm, as well as acting as Faldo’s manager. He spent 14 years at Nike and is an expert in branding. Nick Edmund heads Faldo Design and is a golf writer and barrister
Despite having just 13 employees, it’s very much a global business. The Faldo brand has an international profile, and the company’s courses are increasingly disparate. Faldo himself spends most of his time in the United States, but at times can be almost anywhere in the world – it’d be understandably easy for Faldo to take his eye off the ball.
“I’m the captain of the ship but it’s impossible for me to be constantly looking at every oncoming wave,” he admits. “That’s why I need good people around me to ensure that everything is organised and running smoothly.”
That said, Faldo speaks to Forsyth for an hour a day, seven days a week and attends board meetings every month. “I’m very much a bottom-line man,” he asserts. “I always know where we are.”
Maximising the brand
Faldo Enterprises’ revenue comes primarily from two sources: Faldo Design and its corporate events. However, it’s the Faldo brand that drives both of these streams. To understand the value of a Faldo product you have to understand the Faldo brand – because that’s what the client is largely paying for.
But there’s a lot more to Faldo Enterprises than Nick Faldo, the famous golfer. It’s fair to say Faldo’s trophy haul has given him enough profile to stick his name on any number of endorsements for the rest of his days. Indeed, he was the face of Pringles throughout his playing heyday. But aside from one deal with a Swiss watch company, Audemars Piquet, that he’s had for 15 years, he no longer does endorsements.
Faldo is clearly defi ned as the thinking man’s golf brand. Over 30 years’ experience and famed for thorough preparation, the ability to dissect courses and his technique for shot-making have positioned him as golf’s most knowledgeable analyst. While the likes of Woods and Mickelson are picking up the silverware, they’re juxtaposed as being pure natural-talent players.
Faldo’s ability to analyse and share insight that others can apply has made him one of the biggest names on US television. As an analyst for ABC, his profi le is now arguably higher than it was 15 years ago. “It’s amazing how powerful American TV is,” he says. “If I walk down the street or go to a drug store, almost every person will want to stop and talk to me – and they’re not just golfers. I ask people if it’s the TV or golf [as a player], and they say it’s the TV.”
For the past 10 years, Faldo has also operated a registered charity, The Faldo Trust for Tomorrow’s Champions, designed to encourage the next generation of golfers. It’s helped approximately 1,200 golfers aged 11 to 21 play some of the world’s top courses and develop their techniques. The most talented players passing through the scheme are handpicked to join Team Faldo, where they receive extra support and advice direct from the man, himself. The first generation of pros to come through the scheme, including Nick Dougherty, Marc Warren, Ollie Fisher and Anna Highgate, are beginning to make an impact.
Faldo has a genuine desire to share his knowledge for the benefit of future generations. However, the work ties in neatly with Faldo’s brand and building a desire among clients to buy into it.
Faldo admits this is his “window of opportunity”. He’s not the first to build a second career in golf as analyst, knowledge bank or even designer, but the pioneers and his sporting elders are well into their 60s and 70s. The Woods and Mickelsons are busy playing and can’t boast the crucial experience, so for Faldo, his time is now. Competition exists from foes of his generation, such as Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman, but Faldo is confi dent of taking his market share.
“This is my 10-year window to grow and cement the company,” he says. “I want to grow it globally. America is well organised, so we’re looking at Asia – China is a big market for us.
“I’ve been a competitor all my life and now I’m competing with same names I competed with as a player for contracts – I don’t think it’s strange, I enjoy it and think it’s what it’s all about.”
Taking the business global
Course design is the core of Faldo’s business. The company is now established as arguably the largest in Europe and is rapidly becoming a global force.
It’s been a steady climb, though, and one that’s taken several attempts. “It’s something I have a genuine passion for and had always dabbled with since submitting my ideas for Welwyn Garden City [Fal- do’s hometown] on a side of A4 at 18,” he says. “I tried to do two a year at the peak of my playing in the ’90s, but with the schedule it doesn’t really work.”
However, as Faldo’s schedule became less hectic he had the opportunity “to really show what I could do”, and having proved the market, increased the number of projects each year. Faldo Design has completed 15 courses in 10 different countries and is currently working on 18 more in fi ve different continents.
Unsurprisingly, Faldo Design’s USP is the Faldo knowledge bank. Faldo’s courses are challenging, renowned for encouraging the player to explore a greater variety of shots in order to develop a better allaround game, and thus providing a level of interest for golfers of all levels. “I like to think I’m able to use my experience of playing some of the greatest greens in the world to visualise something more than just dirt and trees. It’s about enhancing what’s there,” he says.
Faldo applies his vision fi rst hand at every course throughout the build process. “I’m there when it’s just jungle, I look at the undulations and the fi nal shapings and play the fi rst round,” he says. His role is purely to visualise and instruct, and he uses a small team of architects across the world for the science of the job.
Faldo’s other role is to show-up for a series of promotional events and the launch – a crucial element for the client. He takes a back seat, however, in the selection of potential clients and the pitching process. While the company would never bid for a contract without his prior consent, it would tarnish the allure of the Faldo brand to have him pitching for business.
In turn, it’s a push and pull business depending on the project. While contracts are turned away – often because the site isn’t up to scratch or there are questions over the client’s ability to fund it – on other occasions Faldo can fi nd himself up against one or more of his rivals. In Europe, Faldo is emerging as the leading player. While Ballesteros enjoys success close to home, Faldo has a more international profile and, crucially, speaks English. Most developers tend to be English or American and, as Ballersteros’ English is limited, he’s unable to offer the flattering personal contact that Faldo can.
Everyone wants a piece of Faldo – the brand and the man – and each deal Faldo Design puts together is highly bespoke, balancing client expectations in terms of design, profile and personal interaction with Faldo.
This level of commitment and interaction obviously comes at a premium. Each course demands a unique fee, and while Faldo won’t talk numbers or disclose turnover figures, he reveals that while a nonbranded course would cost in the region of £250,000 and Jack Nicklaus would charge more than £2m, a Faldo Design course would be at the top end of that scale and always in seven figures. The policy isn’t about chasing dollars, though, and the projects the company accepts are closely linked to its long-term objectives.
The pull of the corporate events
As it expands globally, the Faldo brand unsurprisingly draws the attention of suitors other than property developers. In the past 18 months Faldo has begun working with a range of blue chip clients offering anything from after-dinner speeches to breakfastlunch- 18 holes-golf clinic full corporate days.
Faldo’s commitments limit him to a dozen events a year, but this only adds to his exclusivity and he can comfortably command $100,000 a day. Sounds like easy money, but Faldo is adamant that, as a company, the events offer value for money. He insists that all the schmoozing and shaking hands with accountants isn’t a bind, either. “I genuinely do enjoy it. It’s taken me 30 years to realise what those 15 seconds means to someone. It wasn’t until I met people years afterwards and realised they remembered every second of a short conversation,” he says.
Big ideas, small steps
Just as he scrutinised his swing, Faldo analyses his performance as an entrepreneur. “I get bored quickly and still have big ideas to own whole courses and clubs in the Faldo name, but I’m learning to expand slowly and let one door open another,” he says.
With Faldo Enterprises in profit, a host of lucrative global contracts yet to be cashed, blue-chips queuing up for a piece of the action and Faldo’s Ryder Cup captaincy set to boost his profi le even further, it looks that once again his strategy is spot on.
Name: Nick Faldo Age: 49
Company: Faldo Enterprises
Proposition: Golf course design, corporate events