President John Davidson, grandson of the founder, has his own complaints: "There are a lot of adjustments to make when a conglomerate takes over. Management people are worried that in the shuffle heads will roll, and a few have. But AMF apparently isn't a 'new broom' corporation. A larger fear is that the new parent company will come in, milk the brand name for a quick profit and then turn to other interests.
"It's a long process of education when you've got a diversified company on top. We've got a sexy product here, and these guys have been used to beer filters and cigarette-rolling machines. The people who use our product are genuine enthusiasts, they can't be conned. And we've got a complex product to sell."
Harley-Davidson has given AMF some ideas, too. "For a long time we've had a financing company connected with Harley," says Davidson. "Rodney Gott has talked about making that kind of thing company-wide, a sort of GMAC for all sports products. That would be helpful in the more expensive things like boats and campers.
" Harley-Davidson also has an insurance company, dating from the days when motorcyclists could not get insurance. Gott hasn't said anything about that yet." Davidson, perhaps understandably, sounds protective of his grandfather's operation.
When one considers the spheres of influence in which AMF is operating, insurance is a trifling matter. The corporation is now in a position to affect cultures and social attitudes, and this implies a moral obligation that overshadows the basic corporate motivator—profit. Sport, aided and abetted by the manufacturers of equipment, may be moving the world toward its future in ways that make the Olympic Games look like simple dominoes.
With its capital assets, its lobby and its influence, AMF could run into trouble as easily as ITT did, for business and sport now mix in unique and large scale ways. AMF sponsored the United States team in the 1973 World University Games held in Moscow. Not only did it supply equipment and uniforms, the corporation paid to fly the athletes to Russia, and Rodney Gott, beaming in a team blazer, led the U.S. squad into Lenin Stadium. Some months before the Games, the Russian Minister of Trade had expressed interest in a tire retreading machine made by AMF. Not long after the Games AMF and the Soviets concluded a $2.5 million deal. "We didn't take the team to Russia for any other reason than the athletic event," says Gott. "Of course, we expected publicity for our effort. The machinery deal was just extra." If sport is not exactly an instrument of detente, it is, in the case of AMF, a good entering wedge. The U.S.S.R. has purchased a substantial amount of AMF equipment since the University Games.
In sum, AMF's brash young image, so expensively contrived, so delicately maintained, is serving a purpose. But the future will demand self-control and care. Rodney Gott and AMF best be on the ball. That's AMF-Voit, of course.