A Striking Interview

George Buckley, the former CEO of Brunswick (NYSE: BC  ) , just left the recreation and fitness conglomerate to take the helm ofMotley Fool Inside Valuepick 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) . In Part 1 of this interview from the vaults of The Motley Fool Radio Show, Fool co-founder David Gardner talks with Buckley about managing a company with interests as diverse as bowling and boating.

David Gardner: George Buckley is the chairman and CEO of Brunswick. He joins us from Brunswick headquarters in Lake Forest, Illinois.

George Buckley: Hello David, how are you?

David Gardner: Very well, George, thank you. Your company, Brunswick, has a number of different businesses. I highlighted them: a boating business, recreational equipment, bowling gear, bowling centers. We know your boating and marine engine business is your big money maker. George, give us a quick overview of Brunswick today.

George Buckley: Well, Brunswick has, really, five different divisions, five different operating units. The first is marine engines, characterized by the Mercury brand. The second is our boating business, recreational boating business, characterized by many brands but preeminent amongst them are Boston Whaler, Hatteras and Sea Ray and Bayliner. The third business would be our exercise and fitness business, which makes cardiovascular and weight equipment. They are characterized by the Life Fitness and Hammer Strength brands and our bowling business, which is characterized by our Brunswick brand, and in that we make billiards tables as well as bowling equipment. And lastly, our newest division, which we call BNT or Brunswick New Technologies, which makes navigation and radar equipment and also navigation equipment for land-based systems, the kind of things you have in your car where you can punch in the address.

David Gardner: George, do these feel like distinctly different businesses, or is there a common thread that runs through them? You are the CEO. How do you view your own company?

George Buckley: Well, that is a great question. Frankly speaking, David, we see a lot more synergies in this business than perhaps might be evident at face value. First of all, we have kind of begun, progressively, a technology company. We have begun to sort of cast our unit, BNT, at the center of the technology company where these guys supply electronic technologies to all of the individual businesses: oddly enough, to bowling; to our fitness businesses; to our engine businesses, and our entire boat businesses as well. So we are kind of beginning all the time to evolve to this technology company, so lots of synergies in there.

David Gardner: You know, when I think of bowling and I think of technology, I think of those incredibly difficult-to-figure-out keyboards that are automatically scoring my frames, but if I have to go back and change one, it feels like a nightmare. George, is your company behind that technology, or can you improve it?

George Buckley: Well, that technology is fairly common across the industry. One of the things we have done really across all of our businesses -- if you go to modern centers, you will find those sorts of things a lot easier to use than they once were -- but even also in boating and engines and the fitness equipment, we have majored on what we call this human machine interface, to try and make the entire range of products that we make much more user-friendly and easier to use.

David Gardner: When you became CEO in 2000, you decided to focus on the marine business. Why is that?

George Buckley: Well, it was the largest business. It was the one that we were most successful in. It was the one we had the most capabilities in and it was the logical place from which to build a much stronger company than the one we had at that time.

David Gardner: Certainly so many of us are familiar with the Boston Whaler brand, [and] Sea Ray, you mentioned. . This is a big business. How big is the marine portion of your business when we look at the pie of revenues?

George Buckley: If I don't eliminate [intercompany] sales . it is about $5.2 billion. The marine business, the boat business and the engine business are very similar numbers, about $2.6 billion apiece.

David Gardner: We talked a little bit about the bowling business. When I think about the Brunswick name, I think of bowling balls from my youth, and certainly it is a very vital business even today -- or is it? Is bowling a dying sport, a growing sport . where is bowling today in America?

George Buckley: Well actually, bowling has changed a lot. When I was a young man, bowling was very much . what we call open play. In other words, folks like you and me either going alone or with our families. Then it went through a period where it became much more dominated by league plays, and so people scheduling specific times to go and play in leagues.

What has happened in more recent times is [that] the sport has evolved into more a family play, where people bring along their children, or perhaps more to the point, where the children bring along the parents. We have altered the environment dramatically to . give the bowler more choices, so for example you can go and bowl, you can play another kind of game, you can play billiards, you can get a decent meal there.

The newer centers have got absolutely magnificent environments, and so really what has happened is [that] bowling has evolved to a much more family oriented business over the years. That is really where our growth has been, and bowling is undergoing some kind of resurgence, so we are very pleased with the growth we are getting.

David Gardner: Well, certainly youth birthday parties are a big reason why I have hit the bowling alley numerous times over the last few years. How is the air hockey business these days, George?

George Buckley: I think the air hockey business is nice and steady and reliable. Obviously, those products are consumed in arcades and even in our bowling centers. I wouldn't call it a high-growth business, but it is nice and steady and reliable.

David Gardner: You are managing a whole bunch of different businesses, different brands. It has to be a business where you need to have good brand managers or good line managers out there.

George Buckley: Yes, absolutely that case.

David Gardner: And as diverse as the company is, you mentioned that you have started a new business. You have added a new wrinkle to Brunswick very recently. Do you foresee, over the next ten years, Brunswick building even more new businesses, or do you think you will sell off some of them and consolidate?

George Buckley: No, I think we are a growth-oriented company. We think, in terms of valuations, [that] company growth is one of the predominant factors that Wall Street looks for. Return on investment would be the other one. So we are a growth-oriented company. We don't think it is possible to shrink your way into greatness, so I see us investing more and more in these businesses, driving more and more synergies across the businesses and obviously developing better and better products and better and better management teams.

David Gardner: What is the most profitable product or service that you offer?

George Buckley: The most profitable would be our parts and accessories businesses and perhaps some elements of our bowling business.

David Gardner: And looking over the stock over the last twelve months, down a little bit but a Motley Fool viewpoint is usually a long-term viewpoint. Over the last five years, George, your stock has about doubled. The market is below where it was five years ago. Do you spend any time at all looking at the stock price?

George Buckley: Yes, I do. Of course I try always to make sure that I keep my eye on the long term, because in the end, no CEO is master of one of the ups and downs out there in the marketplace. Our job is to try to drive value in the long term and long term doesn't mean in twenty years. It means in a few short years, so I try to ignore the destruction as best as I can and focus on the things that we can control.

Tomorrow: The value of courage and the wisdom of grandmothers.

We've struck upon further Foolishness:

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Fool co-founder David Gardner holds no financial position in any of the companies mentioned above. He is the lead analyst forMotley Fool Rule Breakers, heading up the hunt for the next ultimate growth stock.


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