A Round With Paul Clark

Teeing off with the CEO of ICOS, maker of Cialis, one of the chief sponsors of the PGA Tour

Slide Show >>

Paul N. Clark rarely plays business golf. But though he generally eschews entertaining customers or employees on the fairways, golf is still business for Clark. The CEO of ICOS Corp., maker of Cialis, the erectile dysfunction pill, attributes a good share of the drug's $1 billion in cumulative sales to the sport. That's because for the past two years, Cialis has been among a handful of chief sponsors of the PGA Tour and the title sponsor of the popular Cialis Western Open near Chicago.

When Clark's U.S. marketing team proposed golf as a means of pitching Cialis, he immediately supported the idea -- and not because he has enjoyed the game since he took it up as a kid. He believed golf was a perfect fit for the product. The edge Cialis has over rival erectile dysfunction drugs, he claims, is its 36-hour window of effectiveness. In his view, Cialis is about relaxation. Its users can take their time finding the right moment for intimacy -- making it more compatible with golf than with other faster-paced sports, he explains. Unlike, say, the basketball court, "there is no rush on the green," Clark says. "It's a natural tie-in to the message we're trying to send. With Cialis, you don't have to feel like you're on the NBA shot clock."

A Second Wind

Since he penned the sponsorship two years ago, Clark has played the Western's annual pro-am with Tiger Woods. It's a thrill for Clark, a "dream come true for an average golfer," he says. But his bigger thrill comes in helping realize the dreams of participants in the Evans Scholars Foundation. As a Western Golf Assn. board member, Clark is a key supporter of the foundation, which funds scholarships that send caddies to college. During his greenside TV interview at the conclusion of each Western Open, Clark talks about the importance of the scholarships. And during the pre-tourney pro-am, he's like a proud father, reveling in the opportunities the scholars get to mingle with the pros. Clark mentions a conversation he and a young female caddie had with Woods about his 1997 Master's victory. Woods recalled the exact clubs he used to eagle the 13th hole and take the lead. "Three-wood, 8-iron," he said, as if it were yesterday. The young caddie wondered out loud how Woods remembered those details after eight years. Flashing that luminous grin he said simply, "I'm Tiger Woods." According to Clark, "It was a nice moment for her and for me."

Clark, 58, first took up golf while he was a teen. His father played, and he sparked an interest in his son. Not drawn to basketball, baseball, or football, and a bit bored with school, Clark soon took some lessons and began focusing on golf while attending Deshler High School in Tuscumbia, Ala. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in finance from the University of Alabama and then an MBA from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College in 1971. He took a job out of business school as a financial analyst at Union Camp Corp., fully expecting to forge a career in finance. Then, by what he calls "dumb luck," Clark fell into the world of pharmaceuticals. He applied for a job as a strategic planner for Sandoz Ltd., now Novartis Corp., in 1973 and never looked back.

Pharma offered many opportunities for Clark. At Sandoz, he crisscrossed the country working in a variety of jobs, from research to sales. He even spent a year's sabbatical in the early 1980s working as assistant to the then-director of the CIA, Stansfield Turner. He went on to become vice-president of sales and marketing at rival Marion Laboratories. Under the demands of work, golf had become a hobby he rarely had time for. That was until the mid-'80s, when he landed the job as president of Abbott Laboratories' pharmaceutical division. Working and living north of Chicago, he joined Conway Farms Golf Club and later the Onwentsia Golf Club. Soon, he was taking lessons from the club pros and playing about 25 rounds a year. A legit golf buff by then, Clark developed into the 15-handicapper he is today.

Despite not playing on a weekday all summer long, Clark agrees to tee it up at his home course, the Seattle Golf Club, on a drizzly Friday afternoon in September. A couple of friends join him -- Larry D. Brady, CEO of Everett (Wash.) tech firm UNOVA Inc., and Lloyd B. Robinson, director of On Call Physician Services at Concentra Inc. and former president of the Seattle Golf Club.

Clark appears relaxed as he steps to the first tee. After all, a few friends and a reporter pale next to the throng of fans and photographers lining the box during the Western's pro-am. The Cialis chief strokes his first tee shot about 240 yards down the right center of the fairway.

Clark plays as if the towering Douglas fir trees and spruce trees bordering the fairways don't exist. But the 105-year-old Seattle Golf Club, nestled into the hills north of Emerald City, demands target golf, and the lush environs don't spare Clark. His 5-iron to the first green flirts with the trees and lands awkwardly in one of the massive bunkers. Three shots later, he records a bogey 5. "I'm an average golfer," he says. "l'll be lucky if I play average today."

Strong Suit

On hole no. 3, after cracking another drive 250 yards uphill, he shares the secret behind his recent streak of long, straight drives. Playing with Clark earlier this summer, Woods asked to check out his new TaylorMade r7 driver. Tiger grasped the grip and gave it a once-over. Clark offered to let Tiger try it, but Woods declined, saying that the regular flex shaft would cause him to send the ball sailing straight right. Still, Clark boasts now: "Tiger Woods touched my driver!" The superstar mojo has been helping Clark strike it sweetly ever since.

A combination of solid drives and consistent irons keep Clark on top of his game the entire front side. But it's really the wedge game that is Clark's strong suit. He proves it on the scenic par-5 No. 9 by hitting an 80-yard shot to within 15 feet of the pin. Then he proceeds to take care of his tricky downhill putt, cozying it into the cup for a birdie 4 and an impressive front-nine 40, just four over par.

For a man who plays to relax, Clark tends to fidget during his pre-shot routine. It consists of repeatedly lifting his head to peek at the hole while he stands over the ball. Then without warning, he swings. He's the consummate host: tending flags, explaining the hidden vagaries of holes, and generally worrying about his partners' balls as much as his own. Maybe that's why he slips to nine over par on the first seven holes of the back side.

But Clark manages to peak at the right time. He closes with two pars, including a 15-foot putt on 18 to record an 85 for the day, two strokes below his average. Reflecting on why he enjoys golf, Clark turns philosophical. "Golf is a good teacher of humility and tenacity, and it teaches you about bad bounces," he says. It also teaches you how to relax. That's a lesson the Cialis CEO fully endorses.

By Roger O. Crockett

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE