Renton-founded Baden Sports leader and CEO Michael Schindler died unexpectedly in late February. After his passing, Renton Reporter sat down with members of the family business to talk about his legacy and the company’s history.
As Schindler’s son Casey Schindler was trying to remember the date the first basketballs were purchased for Baden, he paused.
“It’s so funny, my dad knew all the dates right off the top of his head,” he said.
It was April 1979 with 144 rubber basketballs. Before that, Baden was a not-so-successful tennis racket company. Michael Schindler’s love for basketball as an athlete gave him the foresight to know what was missing in the sport: quality balls. Many didn’t even properly bounce straight. And his father E.C. Schindler, the founder and an experienced manufacturer, had the tools to help create the best product at the time once they decided to pivot. Michael Schindler succeeded him as CEO in 2002.
The CEO’s son-in-law Jake Licht said the two made the perfect duo of experience and passion to bring high-quality basketballs to teams across the country, now selling about 4 million balls a year with a million in inventory at any given time.
Michael Schindler was boundlessly curious — his interest in other people’s needs and lives made him a natural salesperson for the company. He believed he was truly helping people’s lives by offering them a better ball, not just trying to sell a product. Licht said he was always connecting with coaches, customers and the like about basketball but also personal matters. The company partners with the Harlem Globetrotters and Worldvision.
“He truly looked for ways to help those who ultimately became our customers,” Licht said.
That curiosity and passion were also part of the reason why the company has been at the front of major changes in sports equipment. When women’s basketball was rising in popularity in the early 1980s, Schindler wanted to test a smaller ball for the average woman’s hand size, before the ruling on using a different basketball was established by the National Girls and Women in Sports Rules Committee in 1984. Because Baden was already “on the ball” as it were, their tested model was used as the official women’s basketball. That was a turning point in the company’s history.
Michael Schindler kept the unexpected coming in recent years, with Baden’s brand Axebat. The baseball bat offers a new handle style that is meant to improve natural swing and range of a batter’s motion.
“Baseball is probably the most traditional team sport we have in America. So I think some people look at this and think, ‘It’s a better design, but we’re fighting 150 years of baseball tradition. Should we pour a bunch of money, time and effort into this thing?’ And that (thinking) wasn’t in his DNA,” Casey Schindler said. “If it’s a better product, he’s on board.”
Licht and Casey Schindler both work for Baden, as do many immediate family members. There was no separation between work and the personal for him, Casey Schindler said. He would go to the sports games of his employees’ kids, walk with them and never saw retiring as part of his plan.
Licht said that Michael Schindler was Baden, and Baden was him, but that he also left his employees (and family) with the ability to move the company forward.
As a person, his sense of humor, larger than life personality and competitiveness in the business was always countered with his humility and gentle, comforting side, Casey Schindler said. He worked under his father for a little over eight years at Baden.
“Every year, every day he was giving us a little bit more. He was very intentional in including us, teaching us, mentoring us and setting us up for success,” Schindler said. “Of course he didn’t see this coming, nobody did, but I’m so thankful that I had those eight-and-a-half years.”
Schindler passed away while vacationing with his wife in Hawaii of an apparent heart attack.
“We find comfort in knowing he died in a place he loved so much, with the love of his life, Patti, by his side. Thank you for your prayers and support,” the family’s statement reads in a press release about his death.
Update on March 18: Since the publication of this article, Baden has announced Jake Licht as the company’s new CEO and President and Casey Schindler as the COO, replacing Licht in that position.