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Posts Tagged ‘CEO’

Recently it was reported that the typical CEO at the biggest U.S. companies received an 8.5 percent raise last year, taking in $11.5 million in salary, stock and other compensation, according to a study by executive data firm Equilar for the Associated Press.

Over the last 5-years, median CEO pay has jumped by 19.6 percent not accounting for inflation.  That’s nearly double the 10.9 percent rise in the typical weekly paycheck for full-time employment across the country.

It could be, but this isn’t a rant about the typical line worker vs. CEO wage-gap.

If we’re being intellectually honest, CEOs today are required to master a broader range of skills than in the past, when top executives might have climbed the ranks with just one discipline. Companies are bigger, more global and increasingly complicated, and there’s accelerating competition in countries such as China, India and Brazil. Executives must also adapt to quicker technological change, including shifts brought on by autonomous driving, electric vehicles and the widening use of mobile devices.  And then there is the Board, and the increasing requirement that CEOs push their stock price ever higher to collect their maximum possible payout.

So, who are those CEOs at Harley-Davidson, that made Harley-Davidson?  Below is a historical snapshot of the motor company leadership:

Matthew S. Levatich

Matthew S. Levatich — is the current Harley-Davidson President/CEO which he assumed in 2015.  Mr. Levatich was named COO during CEO Keith Wandell’s tenure.

Mr. Levatich, joined Harley-Davidson in 1994. Prior to becoming COO in May 2009, he held wide-ranging roles in the U.S. and Europe. Those roles included Vice President and General Manager of Harley-Davidson’s Parts and Accessories business, Vice President of Materials Management, and President and Managing Director of the Company’s former MV Agusta business. In addition to an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Levatich holds a graduate degree in engineering management and an MBA from Northwestern University. He has served on the board of directors of Emerson, a St. Louis-based global manufacturing and technology company, since 2012.

Mr. Levatich is known as an avid rider and an engineer, that demonstrates a clear vision for the company and talks constantly about focus and alignment and helping the organization remain clear on what it is they’re here to do.  No longer is the motor company the “voice of the executive” rather it’s the “voice of the customer.

Interestingly, Harley-Davidson has evolved from platform teams. Dyna platform, Softail platform, which was largely modeled like the automotive industry. Each platform team was competing for the next big capital investment so they could say now it’s Dyna’s turn to have a major refresh. Or now it’s Softail’s turn. Or now it’s Touring’s turn.  And that doesn’t exist anymore.

In an interview with Cycle World Mr. Levatich stated: “We’re not really in the business of manufacturing motorcycles. We’re in the business of building customers.”  

Keith Wandell

Keith Wandell —  hired from Johnson Controls to serve as Harley-Davidson President/CEO in 2009 — retired May 1, 2015 — only 6-years later.

Credited for leading Harley-Davidson back to profitability by cutting jobs and making its production more efficient he transformed manufacturing through a restructuring plan that generated more than $300 million in annual savings.

Mr. Wandell cut millions of dollars in costs and eliminated several thousand jobs in the manufacturing plants. He brought a sense of urgency to the company, saying he did not want it to be like General Motors and the auto industry that had fallen into deep trouble.

Under his leadership, Harley made significant gains in reaching new customers through growth in international markets and sales to “outreach” segments in the U.S., including young adults, women, African-Americans and Hispanics.  Mr. Wandell also was credited with stoking excitement for a planned electric bike, called Project LiveWire.

Mr. Wandell has been the Non-Executive Chairman of Dana Incorporated since October 27, 2016 and served as its Interim Chairman from September 9, 2016 to October 27, 2016.

James Ziemer

James Ziemer — served as President/CEO from 2005-2009.  Retired in 2009.  Mr. Ziemer is a native Milwaukeean who grew up in the neighborhood next to Harley-Davidson’s original Milwaukee factory location on the city’s west side.

He started with the motor company in 1969 as a freight elevator operator while attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He worked at Harley-Davidson for 40 years.  Upon earning his undergraduate degree in accounting at UWM, he joined the accounting department where he spent the majority of his career. He was named the Company’s Chief Financial Officer in 1990. In 2005, he was named President and Chief Executive Officer of Harley-Davidson.  When he retired, employees presented Mr. Ziemer with the original wood doors from the freight elevator he operated when he first was hired at Harley-Davidson.

As a sidebar, also in 2009, eleven years after being bought by Harley-Davidson, Erik Buell leaves the company to establish Erik Buell Racing.

Jeffrey L. Bleustein

Jeffrey L. Bleustein — retired as Chairman of the Board of Harley-Davidson in April 2009.  He was Chairman from December 1998 to April 25, 2009.  Previously, he served as CEO from June 1997 to April 2005.

He served at Brunswick Corp in many capacities and was President of Trihawk, Inc., a subsidiary of Harley-Davidson, 1984 to 1985. Remember Trihawks?

Mr. Bleustein was a technology consultant with American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF).  In 1969, AMF merged with Harley-Davidson and in 1975, AMF assigned him to help reorganize Harley-Davidson engineering operations.  Led by AMA Hall of Famer Vaughn Beals Jr., and 11 other Harley-Davidson executives (including Willie G. Davidson), Bleustein helped execute an $81.5 million leveraged buyout of the company from AMF on June 16, 1981.

To commemorate the buy-back, approximately two dozen company officers, along with their wives and select motorcycle press, made a cross-country motorcycle trek from the production facilities in York, PA to Harley-Davidson’s main offices on Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee. This 900-mile independence journey was also a ride to support the Muscular Dystrophy Association, now the official charity of Harley Owners Group (HOG). The ride followed a host of ceremonies at York which included the signing of documents that marked the ownership change, and pulling the first “new Harley-Davidson” motorcycle off the assembly line. This 4-day celebration began a new chapter in the company’s “new” future.

Mr. Bleustein was responsible for notable engineering innovations which included the rubber engine mounts, redesign of the V-Twin and introduction of the Kevlar drive belts.

During Mr. Bleustein’s tenure (circa: 1998), Harley-Davidson bought Buell Motorcycle Company and named founder Eric Buell Chairman of Buell Operations. The first Buell’s hit showrooms in late 1999.

Rich Teerlink

Rich Teerlink  — served as Chairman and CEO until 1999 at Harley-Davidson until he retired.  Mr. Teerlink joined Harley-Davidson in August 1981 as CFO where he enjoyed great success over his 18-year career.  He started with the company just two months after the group of 13 Harley-Davidson managers had bought the company from its then parent company, American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF), in a leveraged buyout.

Mr. Teerlink’s greatest accomplishment was establishing the Harley Owners Group (HOG) in 1983.  Mr. Teerlink joined the Vertex Board in 2002, and while serving on the Vertex Board, he also served on the Boards of Johnson Controls, Snap-on Tools and Quad Graphics.

Mr. Teerlink is also a notable author of More Than a Motorcycle, The Leadership Journey at Harley Davidson book.  Mr. Teerlink retired from the Vertex Board of Directors, effective February 4, 2015.

Mr. Teerlink was inducted to the AMA Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 2015.  Mr. Teerlink was awarded an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Laws from Marquette University on May 22, 2005.

Vaughn L. Beals Jr.

Vaughn L. Beals Jr. — served as CEO of Harley-Davidson from 1981-1989 and as Chairman from 1981-1996.

In June 1981, it was a challenging time as American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF) wanted to cut and run, but no one wanted to buy a company with a limited line of high-priced, obsolete products and a reputation for unreliability.  Vaughn Beals Jr., and 13-other** Harley-Davidson executives (including Willie G. Davidson), led an $81.5 million leveraged buyout of the company from American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF).

Mr. Beals previously served as a research engineer for North American Aviation and Cummins Engine Company where he negotiated the purchase of logging equipment manufacturer Formac International as he was a minority owner and CEO.  This proved to be valuable during the AMF Harley-Davidson buyout.  He was named Harley-Davidson CEO after the buy-out option.

In 1982, the motor company won an anti-dumping judgment from the International Trade Commission (ITC). This led then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan to impose additional tariffs on imported heavyweight Japanese models, as allowed by the ITC.  The additional tariffs–45 percent on top of an existing 4.4 percent measure–were meant to decrease gradually over five years, until April 1988.

In June 1986, Harley-Davidson went public with a stock offering to raise capital to help pay off the buy-out option.  This was very successful increasing share price from $11 to $24.  Harley-Davidson  used some of the stock sale revenues to buy Holiday Rambler, a U.S. maker of recreational vehicles, for $150 million.  The Holiday Rambler sale pushed Harley-Davidson into the Fortune 500 category for the first time at number 398.  In March 1987 the company asked the ITC to remove the tariffs imposed on Japanese motorcycle imports a year earlier than scheduled.

Willie G. Davidson, V.P. Styling (Left); Vaughn Beals Jr., CEO and Charles Thompson, President (Right)

Mr. Beals was inducted to the AMA Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 2008.

Charles Thompson — served as President and CEO of the restructured Harley-Davidson after American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF) buy-out option.

Mr. Thompson was a long-time Harley-Davidson employee, well-liked throughout the motorcycle industry and served as president and CEO of the restructured company until his health failed in 1982.

William Herbert “Bill” Davidson — was president of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles from 1942 to 1971.  He was the son of William A. Davidson who quit his regular paying job with the Milwaukee Road railroad in 1903 to get into the business of making motorcycles.

William Herbert “Bill” Davidson

Bill Davidson, started working on the Harley-Davidson shop floor of the family business in 1928 after attending the University of Wisconsin.  He won the AMA National Enduro Championship in 1930 and when he wasn’t winning motorcycle races, Bill worked his way up through the company, becoming a foreman, manager of many departments, and finally president of Harley-Davidson in 1942.

In 1963, Bill brought in his son William Godfrey Davidson (Willie G.) on to head up the styling department of the company. Willie G. would end up creating some of the company’s more popular designs, including the legendary Low Rider and the Super Glide which was inspired by the ideas of bike customizers.

In 1965 Harley-Davidson went public as the two families decided to give up control and put the company’s shares on the market.

In 1969, Harley-Davidson was bought by American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF), a leisure equipment manufacturer.  The arrangement proved, at least initially, to be a good one for Harley-Davidson, for it was in the mid-1960s that the company experienced its first real competition after Indian went out of business. The financial resources and stability that AMF was able to provide helped the company battle Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, who had begun exporting their vehicles around the world, placing themselves in direct competition with Harley-Davidson.

Bill stayed on as president under the control of AMF reporting to it’s then current chairman and CEO Rodney C. Gott (Mr. Gott served as AMF president, starting in 1962, and chairman and chief executive, from 1968. He retired in 1978).  Mr. Gott was a Harley-Davidson rider and big motorcycle fan.  As a sidebar: In World War II, Mr. Gott was a decorated veteran who served in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army and on the staff of Gen. Lesley James McNair, chief of ground forces, and was also commander of the 79th Infantry Division Artillery.

In 1971, Bill Davidson was made Harley-Davidson chairman, but reported that he had little power while under AMF’s control.  It was noted that he was chairman of the Harley-Davidson board that never met.  Conflicts with AMF’s strategy and chaotic market conditions led to Bill Davidson’s resignation in 1973.

It was a period of high CEO turnover at Harley-Davidson.  During this time, AMF named John O’Brian and then Gus Davis as president, marking the first time someone other than a Davidson would sit in the company presidents chair.  Other Harley and Davidson family members continued on at the company under AMF’s ownership.  Bill Davidson’s son John was vice president of Sales, and then moved up to become president after Gus Davis.  William J. Harley was engineering vice president until his death in 1971.  His brother John Harley remained at the company until his death in 1976 as the last Harley at Harley-Davidson.

In 1975, AMF put Vaughn Beals Jr. at the head of Harley-Davidson, and Jeff Bleustein was named chief engineer. Bleustein was charged with making manufacturing improvements, which had  become increasingly necessary as production grew and quality declined.  A limited line of high-priced products and a reputation for unreliable motorcycles marked this timeframe in history.  AMF began to lose interest in keeping the struggling motorcycle business afloat.

Rodney C. Gott (Left) and John Davidson, President Harley-Davidson

In a bit of irony, (circa: 09/1977), the motor company unveiled a motorcycle museum in York, PA., that was named after AMF’s CEO — Rodney C. Gott Motorcycle Museum.  A video HERE.

In June 1981, to save the company, and to effect a turnaround, thirteen Harley-Davidson executives, led by Vaughn Beals Jr., put together a plan for a leveraged management buyout. With the financial support of Citicorp, the management team succeeded in taking control of Harley-Davidson from AMF on June 16, 1981, at a cost of $81.5 million.

The role of the new officers after the company buy-out option included: Charles Thompson, president and chief operating officer; Jack Hamilton, Chris Sartalis, Jim Paterson, Kurt Woerpel, Peter Profumo, Jeffrey Bleustein, Thomas Gelb, William Davidson, and Tim Hoelter, all vice presidents. The president of the various divisions were: John Davidson, golf; David Caruso, parts and accessories; Ralph Swenson, York; and David Lickerman, Harley-Davidson International.

Even though he was no longer actively involved with the company, Bill Davidson lived to see the renewal and success that Harley-Davidson enjoyed starting in the late-1980s.

Bill Davidson died in 1993.  He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 1999.

Walter Davidson — was president from 1907 to 1942.  Bill Harley was chief engineer and treasurer. Author Davidson is secretary and general sales manager and William A. Davidson is the works manager.

In 1936, six sons of the founders are working at Harley-Davidson.  Walter Davidson’s sons Gordon and Walter C.; and William Davidson’s sons, William Herbert “Bill” and Allan; and Bill Harley’s sons, William J. and John.

In 1942 from his death bed,  Walter Davidson named his nephew William Herbert “Bill” Davidson as president and his own eldest son Gordon, as vice president of manufacturing.

Historical Principal H-D Subsidiaries: Holiday Rambler Corporation; Utilmaster Corporation; B&B Molders; Creative Dimensions; Nappanee Wood Products.

Article References:

Vaughn Beals Jr. – Wikipedia
Growing Up Harley-Davidson – Jean Davidson
Harvard Business Review – Harley Leadership U-Turn
Jeffrey Bleustein – Wikipedia
The Morning Call – Harley Is A Classic Turnaround Story
Rodney C. Gott Obituary
Gus Davis Obituary
Cycle World Magazine – Interview with CEO, Matthew S. Levatich
Cycle World Magazine – Rodney C. Gott Motorcycle Museum
Chicago Tribune – The Real Harley-Davidson Story
James Ziemer – Northwest Harley Blog
People – Buy Back Article
Rick Barrett – Journal Sentinel

Harley-Davidson (Buyout) Management Team

**The Harley-Davidson managers post buy-out option: left to right standing: John Hamilton, Dr. Jeffrey Bleustein, Kurt Woerpel, Chstopher Sartalis, and William G. Davidson.  Left to right, seated: James Peterson, Timothy Hoelter, David Lickerman, Peter Profumo, David Caruso, Ralph Swenson, Charles Thompson, and Vaughn Beals Jr.

 

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Matthew S. Levatich

Matthew (Matt) S. Levatich

Harley-Davidson announced that the current CEO of Harley-Davidson, Keith Wandell (age 65) is retiring after taking over the position back in May 2009.  Matthew S. Levatich (age 50), who has served as the President and Chief Operating Officer since May 2009 is scheduled to take over as the next CEO on May 1, 2015.

Mr. Levatich served as President and Managing Director of MV Agusta, a former subsidiary of the Company. In his 15 years at Harley-Davidson, Matt has held positions of increasing responsibility in the U.S. and Europe. He served as General Manager of Parts & Accessories and Custom Vehicle Operations and Vice President of Materials Management.

Matt joined Harley-Davidson in 1994 through its Leadership Development Program and serves on the executive advisory board of the MMM Program at the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management and Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Northwestern University.  He is a trustee on the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and a Regent at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). Mr. Levatich holds an Undergraduate Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He holds ME in Engineering Management and MBA in Marketing, Finance and Organizational Behavior from Northwestern University.

Matt will take the helm of the company at a much better stage than it was during the tenure of Wandell where coincidentally, Harley-Davidson has reported consecutive profits for six years in tandem, which shows how key the effects of Wandell were on the company.

Congrats are in order.  There are challenges ahead which need to be overcome by the company as a whole and it will be interesting to watch advances in the pipeline made by Mr. Levatich.

Photo courtesy of H-D.

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Indian TankCoincidence? 

On Friday, August 9th, three days after the Indian launch, the Harley-Davidson Chief Financial Officer, John Olin sold 11,104 shares of HOG stock.  The stock was sold at an average price of $59.00, for a total transaction of $655,136.00. Following the transaction, the CFO now directly owns 12,702 shares in the company. The sale was disclosed in a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, at this link.

Just a couple of days later Harley-Davidson CEO, Keith Wandell sold 77,102 shares of the stock in a transaction dated Tuesday, August 13th. The shares were sold at an average price of $58.82, for a total transaction of $4,535,139.64. Following the sale, Mr. Wandell now directly owns 70,545 shares in the company.  Those stock options must be working out for him as he now owns three motorcycles; a Street Glide CVO 2011; Road King Classic; and Dyna Wide Glide. 

Well-heeled Riders

Well-heeled Riders

As is often the situation with an executive selling  stock it was likely in the pipeline for weeks prior to the actual sale.

But, after the Great Recession began, the lingering impact of the worst downturn in a half-century continues to deplete the standard of living on the middle-class American household.  Let’s face it, the big factor in the market for anything expensive nowadays is that the only people who have disposable income are the super-rich… and THEY have more of it than anyone has ever had in all of human history.

Sure it’s become trite to slam the rich and I’m trying not to be repetitive.

But, it’s not about being ostentatious:  the super-rich don’t care about impressing the rest of us, because they never see us. They glide from the gated community to the private jet to the island vacation home without encountering any “downscalers.”  They mix exclusively with the other super-rich, and those are the only people they care about impressing.

And that’s tough, because when you’ve got enough money to buy about anything that’s ever been made without a second thought, you have to realize that the guy living next door to your McMansion can buy it too.  So, you’ve just ordered a one-off custom color CVO with a turquoise ostrich-skin seat with matching hand-made gloves and boots?  He’ll give it a glance and say, “Not bad. I think I’ll get a couple for my kids to use when they’re home from prep school.”

So, if really you want to one-up your neighbors by owning something they can’t, your choices are restricted to items with a built-in limited supply, such as art works, and a U.S. Congressmen. Or in keeping with a narrower interpretation of that custom motorcycle style genre, just minimize the amount of tchotchkes on that bone stock H-D motorcycle.

Simple is the new chrome and when your well-heeled fellow riders guffaw, you just have to learn to smirk in a superior way and say, “I guess you don’t grasp the irony…”

Photos courtesy of Indian Motorcycle and Flickr.

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NOAA-MapYou’re the CEO and going down your quarterly earnings check list:

  1. Still in business after 110 years – Check
  2. Secured music talent for 110th Anniversary Party – Check
  3. Number one seller of motorcycles to young adults (18-34) – Check
  4. Increase 2013 first quarter revenue to $1.57B (up 10%) vs. $1.43B a year earlier — Check
  5. Increase 2013 first quarter income to $224.1M vs. $172M a year earlier – Check
  6. HOG shares up 2.1% to closed at $54.31 – Check
  7. U.S. dealers sold 34,706 new motorcycles, down 12.7% from a year earlier – Ooops!

Colder temperatures and the wet climate set the stage for the quarterly sales miss.  At least according to Harley-Davidson CEO, Keith Wandell who stated in last week’s earnings call… “By far, the vast majority of the (sales decline) was weather related”.

Temp2-MapInteresting.  The earnings call didn’t signal any major marketing changes for the brand, instead pinning some of the losses on external factors such as rainfall in many parts of the country, the weak economy and the unseasonably cold weather.

Are the only unemployed consumers who keep getting rained on Harley-Davidson consumers?!

Generally speaking home sales and auto sales are up.  It would seem that management neglected to remind us about Superstorm Sandy, how federal tax returns have been delayed and how fuel prices are unsettling to consumers.  To be fair some retail outlets selling spring apparel, home and garden were depressed due to wintry conditions, but looking at the weather for an impact on Harley-Davidson consumer spending seems a bit trivial.

I spent the last week in Arizona and if you plotted temperatures from dawn until noon, you’d observe an alarming warming trend.  If you extended that trend line for the next 4-months, you’ll clearly notice that ice caps will melt and the poor polar bears will be swimming more.

We’ll soon know if the good weather in the upcoming quarter provides a recovery to more normalized sales volume.

Photo courtesy of NOAA

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110th Anniversary Logo

Well not officially, but according to this site, they’ve obtained a double top secret (read: “leaked”) list of the new Harley-Davidson 2013 model lineup.

No sources were provided, no color schemes or was there any validation via a photo or a scanned copy of the leaked list provided so take all this with a grain of salt.

Motorcycle enthusiasts are well aware that 2013 is the 110th Anniversary for the motor company and similar to the 100th and 95th anniversary celebrations there were a lot of special color combinations and special badging on a broad range of models so we can expect the same for 2013.

For 2013 in the top-of-the-line CVO’s, there will be the CVO Road Glide Custom Anniversary Edition, the CVO Road King, the CVO Road King Anniversary Edition and the CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide Anniversary Edition. The 2012 CVO Softtail Convertible and CVO Street Glide are dropped.

That last one means the price just went up for any stragglers in the dealer showroom floors on this year’s 8-speaker, 1000 Watt, aural bubble machines, i.e., the CVO Street Glide!

Moving down from the CVOs there’s the new 2013 Road King Anniversary Edition and for “trike” crowd there will even be a three wheel Tri Glide Anniversary Edition.

On the Sportster line-up, there is the Sportster 1200 Custom Anniversary Edition, and the Nightster is being dropped.  On the Dyna and Softail lines there’s the new Fat Boy Special Anniversary Edition, Heritage Softail Classic Anniversary Edition and Super Glide Custom Anniversary Edition.  According to the report the “Anniversary Edition” means black paint and some special badges.

In related news, on Monday (June 25th) the Harley-Davidson CEO, Keith Wandell and members of his management team will be in New York to ring the closing bell at the NYSE commemorating the company’s 25th anniversary on the exchange.  It wouldn’t be unheard of them to take Experience Square and transform it into a mini-showroom and have some 2013 models on display.

When I get more information I’ll update this post.

UPDATE: September 9, 2012 – An updated post on the 110th models is HERE.

Photo courtesy of H-D.

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By now you’ve likely read the Q1’12 financial report about how Harley-Davidson Inc. blew away the key financial metrics for the quarter.

You know – Financial Reports – the documents and records pulled together by the motor company to track and review how much money the business is making (or not) with the purpose to update the lenders and shareholders.  These reports are not very friendly or helpful explanations.  More often they require an accounting degree because of the use of financial derivatives, contracts and instruments.

At any rate, not only did H-D report strong gains in earnings for the first quarter of 2012, but motorcycle and related products revenue for the quarter jumped to $1.27 billion, compared with $1.06 billion for the year-ago period.  Consolidated revenue for the quarter, which includes revenue from H-D’s financial services unit, rose to $1.43 billion for the quarter, compared with $1.22 billion in the year-ago quarter.  Most important was the fact that retail sales of new motorcycles grew 20.3 percent worldwide in the quarter compared with the prior-year period and it was led by a strong 25.5 percent increase in the U.S.

Is Harley-Davidson becoming cool to work for again?

It’s a big place and I’m sure some would say yes its cool.  However, what they’ve been through the last couple years has been painful and the process of getting rid of a lot of old bad habits has some maybe thinking no.  The Harley-Davidson chairman, president and CEO, Keith Wandell’s willingness to take on the risks took a lot of courage and it now seems to be paying off.

In other words, it takes 10,000 hours to become world class.  This is a key point in Malcolm Gladwell’s book called “Outliers” which has popularized the theory of 10,000 hours to excellence.  Clearly Mr. Wandell has put in his 10,000 hours, but that doesn’t mean anyone will notice.  Many will just shrug their shoulders at his accomplishments, or they might not even care.

I’ve taken notice and wonder if Harley-Davidson is ahead of its time or is the outlook less optimistic because they’re very good at setting targets that they are confident of being able to hit?

I would suggest that their success this quarter has been largely dependent on “baggers” and the discretionary spending situation improving versus bold new designs.  Meaning the whole motorcycle industry is running on conventional wisdom. People keep doing it the way everybody else is doing it, not expecting a different result so much as being desirous of converting people over to their brand or getting the few remaining conventional buyers left in the business.

You might disagree, but from my vantage Harley-Davidson hasn’t busted out a new “hit” (model) with worldwide success in long time despite the daily onslaught of promotions and publicity.  I’m talking about a stand in the line type of hit!  The conventional orthodoxy of the motorcycle industry is that H-D’s are styled conservatively.  This is typical market research talking.  It’s conventional wisdom saying don’t take a risk on design.  Just accept safe.  A blacked-out bolt here and a new red glitter color there.

Independent of this most recent financial report, the issue is that “safe” doesn’t consistently move the needle in terms of sales.

John Krafcik, President and CEO of Hyundai Motor America

If that were true then Hyundai sales wouldn’t be burgeoning or would they be the most feared major car company in the U.S.  Do you remember when Hyundai’s used to be a joke? Jay Leno said you could double a Hyundai’s value by filling it up with gas.  No one’s laughing now as Hyundai’s John Krafcik steered it from joke to contender. It took a risk.

So, when will we see some of that product “risk” that Harley-Davidson refers to in the quarterly financial reports?  Or has it all come down to being safe and going after the number of “likes” on social networking sites?  Hey, Harley… 1999 called and said they want the true-to-self artistry back!  We can smell the hype.  We know when you’re working it.  What’s sup with all the emphasis on tweeting and hyper-vomiting facebook “fans” over everyone’s networking profiles.  It all adds to the dissonant fray of self promotion and it’s hard to hear when everyone is yelling.

If you have a hot product, people want it.  We know when something impacts us, when we believe it’s great.  And when we find something good, we want to get closer, we want to tell everybody we know.  You don’t have to tweet, you don’t have to Facebook, you don’t even need a website. But it’s got to be different, it’s got to challenge conventional wisdom, it’s got to appeal to people’s hearts more than their pocket books.

Harley-Davidson is at a point where they can make the transformation from the perennial also-ran to a motorcycle industry jauggernaut that pushes the envelope in its designs while other companies try to catch up.  Or the Hyundai equivalent will…

Photos courtesy of H-D and Richard Drew/AP.

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I was in L.A. last week driving down part of Route 66 towards the Santa Monica pier and through Beverly Hills enjoying the nice California  weather.

There were more yet-to-be licensed Benzes, Ferraris and Porsches over a three-mile stretch than I’ve seen in the past year.  And here I was in an ultra-cool Nissan Cube rental, arm out the window and for a few blocks co-mingling with the rich and famous.

Speaking of… did you read that the Harley-Davidson president and CEO, Keith Wandell, opted not to have his base salary increased in 2011, according to a proxy statement filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

On the surface this – “we’re all in it together” – grand gesture would make a person believe that a CEO who accepts a ZERO increase in salary is saying they’re a team player who wants to make a sacrifice for the good of the company.  After all wasn’t it Harley-Davidson management that laid-off hundreds of workers, closed plants and obtained impressive union concessions in a new multi-tiered workforce structure for the survival of the company?

Call me cynical, but when I hear about these it seems more like “camouflage” to deflect scrutiny off the extraordinary set of CEO benefits or at minimum to get publicity and produce significant positive short-term market reaction.

In fact, there are a number of reports which suggest these type of salary tactics are nothing but a ruse or smokescreen as a number of CEOs have adopted these pay schemes.  It’s the kind of opportunistic behavior from those wealthier, more confident, influential CEO’s rather than sacrificial acts they are ‘projected’ out to be.

I certainly don’t know if or what Mr. Wandell’s intent was, but we do know his total compensation in 2011 rose nearly 13% to about $7.2 million, compared with $6.4 million in 2010.  We also know the motor company paid Mr. Wandell a bonus of $365,639 in 2011.  He also received a base salary of $975,037 in 2011, equal to his salary in 2010.

And to be clear this post isn’t about wealth envy or whining about how it must be nice to be rich.  We all know that rich people and bankers are beating the system.  They’re writing off multi-thousand dollar meals with rare wines at places with unlisted phone numbers that you/I can’t get into.  Unless you just woke up in North Korea, then you know that in America, if you don’t like what you earn, where you work or what you do for a living then you’re entitled to leave (quit) and go start a company, further your education or do whatever the hell you want.  It’s clear that company’s exist to make a profit for their shareholders and if the shareholders don’t like what the CEO is doing, or earning then they can fire the board of directors to include the CEO.

But wait there’s even more.  Mr. Wandell received total cash bonus payments, both discretionary and performance-based, totaling more than $2.8 million in 2011, compared with cash bonus payments of about $2.3 million in 2010.  His stock awards were valued at $1.5 million, compared with $1.4 million in 2010, while his option awards were valued at $1.7 million, compared with $1.6 million the previous year.  He also received “other” compensation totaling about $175,000 in 2011, compared with about $84,000 in 2010. The payments included $29,600 in lieu of receiving certain perquisites and personal benefits, nonqualified deferred compensation plan contributions of $68,466, 401(k) plan contributions of $31,850, and life insurance premiums of $13,727. He also received additional benefits that totaled $25,478 consisting of financial planning services, personal use of company aircraft and clothing.

What’s the punch line?

Well given that Mr. Wandell has made things happen, meaning that as “Head Honcho” he made moves that H-D insiders historically shied away from.  He played hardball with dealers, shed crappy brands, cut labor contracts, made major job cuts and closed plants. Some folks were let go just prior to Christmas, but unfazed he continued to trim the fat and raised cash by selling some old investments, like Harley’s semi-secret test track in the Everglades.  He also challenged Harley’s own traditional norms by altering its marketing strategy to attract non-traditional segments, like women and minorities.  He also embarked on an international growth strategy that will eventually bring the all the products, the parts, the lifestyle, and the American V-Twin to enthusiasts worldwide.  The financial numbers speak for themselves.

All this from a guy who came to the Motor Company and did not even ride any kind of motorcycle!  He’s earned a raise.  How hard is it to understand… Harley success = Industry success.

Photo taken by author’s iPhone and post-processed in Snapseed (Nik Software).

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