LT Walden is presently Chairman Emeritus of the E-Z-GO Golf Car Company. 2003 marks the 42nd year that Mr. Walden has been at E-Z-GO. You may recall (it’s in our Archives) we interview LT when he was President of E-Z-GO. When we interviewed him this time, however, we had different purpose for the interview.
Next year E-Z-GO will celebrate its first half century of business. LT has been there all but 8 years of it. We figured there would be some History to be learned from LT and we were right. But we also found more. We found a man who had the character, patience, foresight and ability to work with people that allowed him to go from a spot welder at E-Z-GO to the President of this major corporation. LT’s answers are profound. You will enjoy them. Due to the length of this interview, we’ll divide it in parts. Here is Part 1
L.T. Walden, Chairman Emeritus of E-Z-GO
Interview Conducted May 14, 2003 @ E-Z-GO Corporate Offices, Augusta Georgia
By Golf Car Catalog. Com, Interviewers: John C Triolo, Norman Smith, Mike Williams
Norm: We would like to start with your background. Where were you born, where you grew up, tell us about your family and how you came to E-Z-GO?
LT: Well, I grew up in a town called Gibson, Georgia, about forty miles outside of Augusta. I graduated from high school there. My family had two sisters and one brother. My father was in the logging business at that time and I worked for him for a couple of years and then I went off and worked at the mental institution in Millageville, Georgia for a year and didnt like that too much. It was a great experience though!
Jack: What did you do there?
LT: I was an orderly on a floor. I was about nineteen years old then. Then a couple of friends that had worked up there and I had decided to leave and we didnt have jobs anymore. We were out riding around one day and we knew some people from Gibson that worked for E-Z-GO when it was located out there on Gordon highway. In the time that I was over in Millageville, they had moved over to Marvin Griffin Road. So we drove over here one Friday afternoon and we walked in and we told them we needed a job and they said show up Monday morning and a couple of us did. So we went to work and 41 years later this May is where I started from.
Norm: What year was it that E-Z-GO moved to this Marvin Griffin Road location?
LT: They moved out here in 1962. They moved at the first of the year in January or February and then I started in May.
E-Z-GO moved from this location in Grovetown to their present location
It looked better in those days
Jack: What were you doing when you first started here?
LT: I worked back in the back shop where they were making the model 400 at that time. They had just stopped making the Model 300. I would put the metal parts on a jig and spot weld the body panels together. So I did that. I did some spot welding and then also at that time you had to take a hammer and beat the metal around to the rear fender so you could mount a plate to it. I did a variety of things. At that time, you had to not just really concentrate on one job, you helped do what ever needed to be done. I helped change some of the dyes we used in the presses and stuff. I was kind of a jack-of-all-trades. What you would do on lots of Saturdays was come in and build service parts for the Model 300 which we just discontinued but still needed parts for. At that time there were only about forty of us out here so there really werent too many people. During that time, a friend of mine who went to work here was in the service parts department and he decided to leave. Through him, I got him to talk to his boss, who was Sam Mays, to let me move to service parts. And I did.
Jack: Over seeing it?
LT: Just running service parts. It was a one-man show. I got all the orders and shipped all the parts. Then in January of 1964 I got drafted into the army. I was 24. So I went into the army and spent two years there and while I was there Sam Mays wrote me and asked me to come back and work for E-Z-GO because they had a position for me. So I came back and started the first customer service department with two people in it. We would repair cars in-house and we would also go out on the road and fix cars at clubs.
Norm: How big of a territory did you have?
LT: Well the territory was the world. (Laughter) Certainly it was a lot of local stuff at the time, but we would go any place to work on golf cars. As years went on, we went to the Bahamas, to the Virgin Islands, to Canada and where ever.
Norm: You must have traveled quite a bit when the Model 400 got out there. Can you tell us about the 400?
LT: Yes. The 400 was quite a challenge. We had our share of problems with it and we manufactured the 400 model and it had the 400A, 400B, and 400C. It started out with the Tiller Bar steering and then we converted it by putting a steering wheel on it so you could get either one. Then during the year of 1965 we went to the first X440. The X440 was a newly designed golf car. We changed a lot of stuff in it. We really went back and changed the electrical system and a lot of it went back to the Model 300 because it was a good golf car.
Norm: We understand that the 400 had 13 solenoids in it?
LT: Yes, 13 solenoids and it had a swing axle differential that had a lot of problems. So we went back to sort of what it is like today. I mean the X440 concept is still seen in a lot of the golf cars today.
Norm: George Inman said about the 400 that it really was a great concept and the purpose of it could have been good but it just didnt have the engineering to make it a good car.
LT: We didnt have the technical expertise to really make it work. That was the problem. We just didnt have the electrical and engineering talent to make it work.
Jack: Who conceived the concept of the 400? Don Saporito was involved with some of these designs, now I dont imagine he was involved with the electrical design, but
LT: He was not involved in that design at all. That was really a Bev and Billy Dolan and, at that time, John Bush would have had something to do with the electrical system in that golf car. I honestly dont know whose brain child that was.
Norm: Well, being in customer service, the 400 gave you lots of business.
LT: Lots of business. Early on in 1965 we designed and brought out the X440. So that went on and we didnt look back.
E-Z-GO Model X440 in Production
Norm: Were you taking the 400s back and exchanging them for the X440?
LT: There was a lot of that that went on. A lot of switching out golf cars took place to make the customer happy because that was the first thing. Of course, when we got to the Model 400C, it was a better car. We had learned enough that it was really a fair car. It wasnt the right thing though because we had to many electrical components in it. So we went back from 13 solenoids to having one solenoid and just changed the whole electrical system on the car. That really was the day that we got turned around and really manufactured a good golf car. The basics of golf cars done back then have carried over in several ways to today. There is a lot more technology in cars today and they are a lot more sophisticated.
Jack: When you came to E-Z-GO, who did you actually work for? Was there a specific boss?
LT: Well, I worked for a guy named Babe MacZilky. Dont ask me how to spell it because I dont know! At that time he was the plant foreman or the plant supervisor and I worked for him for about 8 months or so. Then I went into service parts and I worked for Sam Mays When I came back I still worked for Sam Mays because he was over sales and customer service and that sort of stuff.
Jack: So you went in for a two year hitch in the military? Were you based in the U.S. or did you go overseas?
LT: Trained in Fort Jackson, South Carolina and then was sent to the armpit of the world, Fort Port, Louisiana to spend the rest of my time. While I was there, I volunteered to go any place to get out of there, but they wouldnt let me go, so thats about as far as I got.
Jack: What did you learn in the military to help you at E-Z-GO?
LT: I was a company clerk in the military and I think the position of a company clerk is really like a management position because you had a boss, you had a company commander, and you had a first sergeant who you worked for. They dumped everything on the company clerk, even doing the payroll. So you learned how to deal with people and get along with people and I think that it taught me if you communicated well and worked hard, you will do fine.
Norm: Do you think that is where you started gathering your almost famous ability to work with people?
LT: Well that helped but I think I got a lot of that from my father because he was that way. He loved people and was a very good manager of people. He had at any given time 40 or 50 people working for him.
Jack: This was in the logging business? Is that what he did most of his life?
LT: Yes, he was in the logging business and when he got out he ran a lumber company for the Lamb Brothers in Wrens, Georgia. He ran that for about 10 or 15 years.
Norm: When do you think you gathered his basic premise of how to work with people and when did you start to use this?
LT: I think that his premise and my premise is that you communicate with people, you give the people time to work and do something on their own. I found that worked for me. I found that I was able to tell people what to do but I was also able to ask people what they thought about doing. I got them to tell me what they thought should be done. Some people you can not tell what to do. If you try to tell some people what to do, they rebel on you. You have to psychologically let it be their idea. Some people say that a manager should tell everybody what to do. Well, I somewhat disagree with that. I think that there are some people that you have to tell them what to do and you have to lead, guide, and direct them. Some people you dont tell them what to do because if you do, they wont do it.
Norm: When you came to E-Z-GO, they had just moved to Marvin Griffin Road. Did you hear of any problems that the Dolans may have had when they were at Gordon Highway location? Specifically do you know anything about the riff that Billy and Bev had with Paul Corley? Was that ever discussed or brought up?
LT: No, I dont. I just know that they had a falling out. They separated and parted ways. You pick up little bits and pieces of that but Im one that I never did ask anybody to tell me all the details. That was in the past and when I came here, I wasnt worried about the past. I was just trying to live to the next day. Then over the years you can hear this story and that story and stories grow. So I dont like to get into the stories because everybody embellishes it so you dont know what the real truth is. That was something that happened before I got here so I am not concerned about it.
Jack: Textron owned E-Z-GO when you got here?
Jack: So that was a done deal already. Did that have any impact that you saw? Did it have any day-to-day impact or did business go on as usual?
LT: At that time when I first got here, Textron owned E-Z-GO and I didnt know the impact of what Textron was at that time because I just thought it was E-Z-GO. But Textron certainly gave E-Z-GO the opportunity to grow and become a great company. Without them, it would have really struggled. The financial support of Textron was very important. Roy Little, who did the deal with Bev and Billy, started Textron and was an avid golfer. He did not actually see E-Z-GO until 1972. That was his first visit down here some ten or twelve years after he had bought the company. Billy and Bev went to New York and signed all the papers. Roy Little, I guess, had a vision that golf cars were going to be something of the future and he was right.
Norm: He and his people did not have a hands-on type of management of E-Z-GO.
LT: Not really hands-on, no. Roy Little was the chairman and he had a president of Textron and then you had group vice-presidents. You really reported to a group vice-president of Textron, that is what Billy and Bev would have done. You communicate with them and tell them your needs and what is going on. As long as did what you were suppose to do and you hit your numbers, you really didnt get that much hands-on management. They gave you a good bit of autonomy to operate your business.
Jack: If you would, talk about Sam Mays just a little bit. He had been with E-Z-GO how long when you came in? A couple of years?
LT: Sam would have been here, now Im guessing on this, a couple of years, maybe three years. As I said, I went to work for him in the service parts and he was a nice guy. We really became friends and I guess I did something right because when I left, he wrote me and asked me to come back to work for him again. So I guess he saw something. I dont know what he saw, but I worked for Sam in the customer service area and then I moved from that area. I started selling used cars and we incorporated that into it. I also got put in charge of warranty. Then later on, I was still working for Sam all that time, and I got put in charge of service parts for a while. I sort of became a traveling representative, from a technical and problem stand point, solving problems in the field. Sam Mays was a great guy to me and I learned a lot from him. Later on, Dick Lemmon, who Sam worked for, was the head sales guy and he started looking at branches. Back then, Texas was the first branch that was started. The Rountree Brothers owned that and I was involved in that helping get the branch started. Then we bought a big Cushman dealer out in Chicago called Chicago Land. That was the third branch we had. In 1970 or 1971, we decided to put a branch out on the West Coast. Bev asked Dick Lemmon to go out there and run it. Dick Lemmon asked that I move out there with him to help run it and really stay there in Southern California. I told them that I would give it a shot. So I went out there in 1971, the year they had that big earthquake. But I helped Dick set up that branch and we also went over to Hawaii and set up our first distributor in Hawaii. I helped Dick get the branch started and then I decided that this old Southern boy had to come back to Georgia. Southern California was not the place for me.
Norm: We dont have much information on Sam except what other people have said, but Charles Goodwin yesterday said an interesting thing about Sam. Everybody liked Sam and he said he was a great guy, but he said he had a nickname Hard Sam, not in a bad connotation of hard. Hard meaning he was hard fast on getting the job done.
LT: Yes, Sam was
very dedicated. He was very dedicated. When he was here at E-Z-GO, he was one of the first to come in and one of the last ones to leave. I think that he was really the type of person who would give you the autonomy to do what you were supposed to do. There was no being micro managed. He gave you the opportunity to do whatever job you were responsible to do.
Jack: Were you married at the time that you went out to California and did the wife go out with you?
LT: Yes, we drove to California and at that time we had our first child and he was a year old or so. So we drove there and my sister-in-law went with us. That was quite a trip because my son jumped from the front seat to the back seat 10,000 times. We got out there in September and right around Thanksgiving my wife and her sister decided they needed to come back to Augusta for Thanksgiving. So they left and, low and behold, I got to talking to her two or three weeks later and she said, I dont want to go back so you just come home. And that made the decision for me to come back (laughter). It was just not the place for either of us at that time.
Jack: When you came back to Augusta, what were you doing for E-Z-GO at that time?
LT: When I got back, I got into sort of the old role of customer service, getting back into the field and helping with problems. At that time we had a branch and Randy Strozier was the branch manager of the first E-Z-GO branch. He was out in the plant until he got moved. I stayed back there and worked helping run the branch. I really was more dedicated to selling used golf cars. I got into selling used golf cars and managing used golf cars and looking after the warranties. I did that until 1978 when the famous eight left and went and bought Club Car. Pretty soon after that I moved up into the sales department and was the person over all of the older and used golf cars. I also helped the branch managers with any problems that they had. So I looked after sales, getting the orders in, getting the products built and getting the products shipped. I was involved in that.
Norm: Lets go back for a moment if we could to about 1976, 1977, and 1978 when E-Z-GO executives became unhappy and left to start Club Car. All of the people that we have interviewed so far have said that there was a growing unhappiness with Textron. Can you describe that and were you aware of the problems that the Eight had with Textron?
LT: Well, what happened was that things were changing. When Bev left here, he went to run Polaris but he was also over E-Z-GO. So at that time everything was fine. When Bev left Polaris to go to Homelite, he had to have a replacement at Polaris. He brought in somebody as president up there. They had a vice president of sales, a finance guy, all up in Minneapolis and they were over the people down here. I think that there was some resentment there. They just didnt like having to report up there to people that they though didnt know the business. Then the corporate input changed, it just changed. The whole style of management and the way the company was being run and the things you were being asked to do took the entrepreneurship out of the hands of the management here.
Norm: When Bev was still there, he said, Okay, Im going up there. If you have any problems let me know. But he didnt put anybody in charge because he still felt like he was in charge.
LT: Well, he was still in charge. That was the concept. He was still President of Polaris/E-Z-GO at that time, but he did give them the authority to run the company. George Inman looked after the operations and manufacturing, Billy was still the head sales guy, and Sam Mays was still selling. I dont think that there was a lot of management of Bev putting his thumb on somebody down here. After he left Polaris and went to Homelite, things started changing. There were more people trying to manage the company from a long distance and there was resentment there.
Norm: We want to get into some of the competition of the early days. Pargo and Melex and Yamaha were about to be competition. Talk about, say, Melex..
LT: Some people out of North Carolina, including the Cottons and Powell, took an E-Z-GO golf car and took it over to Poland and copied it. It just so happened that the golf car they copied had a lot of problems. We were really phasing out of it or had phased out of it about the time Melex showed up over here. So it had some problems built into it that we had and thats the reason we had made some changes in it.
Melex came in and really messed the market up from a pricing stand point. It got to be a pricing war out there and I think in hindsight we were wrong by lowering our prices. We probably shouldnt have done that because what happened after people got the Melex golf cars, they didnt like them. It didnt even take a year, in a lot of cases, for people to come back to us and say, I need to get rid of these. We should not have competed with them on price. We should have competed as a better product and never let them sell as many as they did. We should have put more of an effort towards stopping them, but we let them get them out there. When they started having problems , we ended up having to take their cars out and put ours in. Then we had a bad golf car that we were trying to sell on the used market. Your danged if you do and your danged if you dont. We probably should have competed with them and not let them in there in the first place.
Jack: How much were you involved in decision making at that time?
Walden: Not to the level that I probably could have been an influence.
Norm: With Melex and Pargo and perhaps the Japanese coming into the market, those who operated E-Z-GO at the time believed they needed to modernize. They needed to have a new and better golf car. So they started working on it and we believe that is when Don Saporito entered the picture.
LT: Yes. Don Saporito designed the golf car, but we never used it. We had a model of it and I we never ended using that design. Then he ended up going to Club Car. He ended designing a car for them and I am not sure if it was the same car or not, but probably not.
Jack: According to George Inman, they were not, but they did look similar.
LT: I dont think that they copied what he had done over here.
Norm: When did you first become aware of the fact that the Eight were getting unhappy with E-Z-GO.
LT: The day they left.
Norm: You didnt know before then.
LT: I didnt have a clue.
Norm: Were you asked to go?
LT: No I was not.
These are the 8 E-Z-GO Executives who left to form the new Club Car Company
Jack: Would you say what you would have done had the opportunity been presented?
LT: Well, you dont ever know. At that time, all of those particular people were good friends of mine. The chances of me going with them would have probably been very, very good at that time. Later on I was approached a couple of times about if I had ever thought about going over there and I decided that after all of that had happened that my loyalty was with E-Z-GO and it always has been and it always will be.
Jack: Did you think that obviously it was an opportunity for you that eight executives were leaving E-Z-GO?
LT: Yes. Looking back, I would not have gotten were I have gotten in my career if that had not happened. By them leaving, I was able to accomplish what I have accomplished.
Norm: Number one, we have a copy of that letter of resignation and we have heard from several different people the very same story about the actual day of resignation. We have heard that they gave Fritz the letter and he said, You caught me with my knickers down! Go some place that I can get a hold of you and I will call you and tell you what to do. So they went to Sam Mays house and later in the afternoon he called them and said, Here is what we want you to do. Show up Monday and get your personal things and get out and dont come back. They had offered to be there for a couple of weeks for transition purposes and what not, but here it was, they were gone. All of these people in operations and sales and control and things now gone, what did Fritz do to keep E-Z-GO afloat in that first period of time?
LT: I think that Hall Wendell was a big factor in it. He was a sales guy too and he was always very smart. You know, and what you just said, I just remember us sitting down and talking about keeping the company going and everyone of us left pitched in and kept going. We made sure everything ran like they hadnt left but at the same time we worked in the fact that they were gone. We had people out in the plant that knew the operations. We still had some good people, maybe not the George Inman caliber, but we had good people. From a manufacturing stand point, we still had George Rollins left. So there were some people that we were able to go on with. E-Z-GO wasnt in grid lock.
Norm: Did Textron put anybody in charge at that time? Bev had already gone to Homelite right?
LT: I dont know if Bev was at Homelite or Textron. But we had Fritz who spent time here and we had the head sales guy, and the head engineer, and the head manufacturing guy came down and they all met with different people and they talked about different strategies to go forward and they started looking for replacements.
Norm: Did they designate a president at E-Z-GO?
LT: No. We did not do that. Fritz was still president of Polaris/E-Z-GO because that was the concept that they operated under.
Jack: It has been rumored that if maybe two or three others had gone that E-Z-GO would have staggered and maybe not have survived. Do you think that there were still lots of good talent there?
LT: I think that there were still some strong people left over. I think that you would have had to have gone a lot deeper than the original eight. Some people did leave after that. There was more than that. There was some more attrition that ended up over there but if you had had a strategy, if you had taken twenty people, it would have made a difference. Then again, I think that Bev Dolans company, E-Z-GO, really meant something to him. I think you would have seen him get more and more involved in it so I dont think E-Z-GO would have gone away. Not with his determination.
Norm: Did he come in and help at that time?
LT: He didnt necessarily come in but he kept in communication. He had a lot to do with what happened down here. He had a lot of input into the go forward kind of stuff. He was very influential.
Norm: When the Cotton Brothers were involved in Melex that obviously caused E-Z-GO some heartburn, but later on the Cotton Brothers gave up Melex and came back and became involved with E-Z-GO again and set up the North Carolina branch and became confidants of Beverly. Do you know of that involvement?
Ken & Troy Cotton
LT: Well, it was that they came back and Bev Dolan was the type of person that if you could not be friends of his then you could not be friends of anybody. The Cotton Brothers were hunters and fishermen and just good, old southern boys so there was a click there. Their friendship grew from there and I think that was Bevs style. He made friends with everyone. He was still a tough manager and all that though. I became friends with the Cottons too. We have become very, very close and I have been to their houses.
(End of Part 1)