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Posts Tagged ‘Employee Passion’

BITW-HelmetAs I write this I’m reminded that I was flying home from Barcelona, Spain about this time last year after a long work week at an industry event and that every year in business is different.

A few years are easy, some are hard, and most are somewhere in between. Each year you face a different set of circumstances: changing economic, political, social and what’s cool in the billet industry.

We know from the Discovery Channel which scripted a mini-series project about the history of Harley-Davidson, that in the early years the company really struggled to survive. From month to month, they worked hard to keep from getting further behind and sinking further into debt.  There were the AMF years and then came the housing bubble.  Those of you who have tried or are establishing a little business of your own know that success is much harder than you envisioned it should be. Many folks think there must be “one big thing” they are missing that if discovered and remedied would turn things around and put them on the path to major prosperity.

Clearly, that isn’t the case, and over the course of a few startup years often you learn that rather than “one big thing,” there are many functions throughout the business that had to get established in good working order for the business to really succeed.

After 114 years, this still holds true for Harley-Davidson. There are no guarantees or shortcuts to success. There is only doing the hard work that needs to be done, doing it to the highest standards, and identifying the next area to establish or improve in order to build the next generation of Harley-Davidson rides and riders to control their destiny.

All of this became acute over the last week when Harley announced their Q4 and full-year 2016 financial results (HERE).

Words like “intense competition, flat market, soft sales, and earnings miss” ruled the day.

These are just words.  I’m of the viewpoint that how well any company performs is a key factor in how well they succeed compared to their competition.  Since we’re a few days before Super Bowl — a sports analogy is in order — how well a team executes ALL aspects of their game has everything to do with whether they win or lose.

Obviously taste in motorcycle brands, styles, or in paint schemes, is subjective. Some in the press have beaten down the overall market with reports that seem to indicate the riding “fad” has ended. Granted there’s been negative publicity with Polaris shutting down the Victory Motorcycle brand and overall motorcycle industry earnings not being great, but there are many very nice motorcycles being made, and WE the riding enthusiasts/public have lots of choices.

Why do I bring this up?

I’ve notice in my travels that many successful companies have a sense that they are masters of their own fate; their success is within their control. They know it’s a myriad of little things done well that add up to their success. And no matter what their size, they realize that a company always has the resources at hand to take their next step. Isn’t that really the “art” of it: to creatively employ existing resources to advance the ride, the employees and the company?

Most of us know the answer to a problem is rarely found outside the company; it usually comes from within.  I’m confident that Harley-Davidson will find the answers and simply function better as an organization.  I predict they will do a more thorough job of performing the functions a successful motorcycle company needs to and roll out compelling new products that will be industry hits.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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wandell_letterQuestion — Does the CEO of a multi-billion dollar motorcycle company need to be a motorcycle enthusiast?

The newly named Harley-Davidson CEO, Keith Wandell, sent a letter to the approx 1400 independent dealers opining his excitement in joining the motor company.  I was able to obtain a copy.  What did it say? But, more important what can we learn about this “motorcycle buff” who is set to grab the handle bars?

The Good:

  1. He’s thrilled to be part of the “family”
  2. Achieved operational results in a global business (read – he’ll always be welcome in the finance dept!)
  3. Strong manufacturing experience
  4. Loves the brand and the Marketing department likely increased their ad budget for brand awareness
  5. Switching from “tee times” to “riding times”

The Bad:

  1. Never used Harley products
  2. An old hand from another industry
  3. Comfortable with slash-n-burn restructuring…comments: “assure your long-term vitality and ours”
  4. Unclear track record in the often brand fickle consumer retail market
  5. Not a motorcycle rider, yet, but did “borrow” his brother’s motorcycle a couple decades ago and was “thrilled.”

What do you think?  Do you want a CEO lurking in the design center or doing lunch with the bean counters?  Do you think a “motorcycle buff” is someone who polishes your chrome or a visionary in the motorcycle industry?

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Dealer, 

First things first. I want you to know how excited I am to be joining this legendary company. One thing I’ve admired over the years, while living here in Harley-Davidson’s hometown of Milwaukee, is the tremendous power of the brand, and the many ways it touches lives and makes emotional connections with customers from around the world. I have especially loved taking in the anniversary celebrations – three of them now in the time we’ve lived here in the Milwaukee area – not only because they are just plain fun, but also because everyone is welcome to join in and be a part of the celebration and the Harley-Davidson family. I’ve also gotten a great sense of the power of the brand over the years from my older brother Mike, an avid Harley rider and active member in his local HOG chapter in my home state of Ohio. Believe me when I say how honored and thrilled I am to be coming into this very special family. 

I am looking forward tremendously to this opportunity to take what I’ve learned over the years about driving growth, developing and motivating talent and producing strong operational results in a global business, and together with you and the entire team at Harley-Davidson, help take a highly successful Harley-Davidson to an even brighter future. 

You probably have a number of questions about the moves that Harley Davidson has announced. Over the coming weeks and months, one of my top priorities is to spend time with dealers, where we can talk face-to-face, I can listen and learn about your businesses, and you can learn more about me and my priorities and vision for this company. I also know you have questions about the leadership change at the top of Harley-Davidson Motor Company, where Matt Levatich has been named President and Chief Operating Officer, succeeding Jim McCaslin. I know that Jim has worked closely with the dealer network and will continue to do so. And those of you who know Matt, know him to be a great guy and a highly skilled leader. Look for a note from Matt this week about his new role and thoughts he has about working effectively with all of you on behalf of Harley-Davidson Motor Company. 

For now, I’ll pose a few questions that I bet are on your mind: 

– “What does this news of Keith’s appointment mean for me as a dealer?” 
– What does Keith know about Harley-Davidson and why is the Company bringing in a newcomer to lead the organization?” 
– “And who is this guy, ‘Wandell’?” 

Let’s start with the first question. It is crystal clear to me through the many discussions I’ve had during the interview process that Harley-Davidson has the best motorcycle dealer network in the world, bar none. The nearly 1,400 independent Harley-Davidson dealers worldwide live and breathe Harley Davidson in your communities, and I am keenly aware that you are key to our mutual success. I also know that Harley-Davidson has a great group of highly motivated and talented employees who are incredibly passionate about their work and continue to dial it on every day. 

My job is to help the team of dealers and our employees harness and enable all the energy and passion that’s evident in this enterprise, as we work together to reach our mutual full potential and success. As for what I know about Harley-Davidson and why the Company is bringing in a newcomer, my overarching priority is to assure your long-term vitality and ours. We will do that through new products, technologies, demographic markets and global markets, and at the same time through our ongoing strong commitment to traditional markets and core customers. I understand and appreciate the importance of growing in ways that are true to the Harley-Davidson culture – always remembering where we came from but always ready to explore new horizons. 

One of the key ways that I am going to learn about the business is to get around the Company, meet with dealers as I mentioned, go to rallies and H.O.G. events where I can get to know our customers better and see as much as possible firsthand. I’m going listen carefully to dealers and employees, and get your perspectives about the business. I’m going to ask lots of questions. What do we do well? What can we do better to grow and serve our mutual customers well? Frankly, I can hardly wait to get started. 

Now let me tell you a little bit more about myself. I’m a family guy who’s been married to my wife Deb for 27 years and have five children – two working, two in college and our 16-year-old daughter who is still at home with us here in Milwaukee. I love to play golf, although I’m pretty certain I will be switching some of my “tee times” to “riding time” in the very near future. 

I’ve had a great 21-year career at Johnson Controls, which among other things is one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers. And I really wasn’t looking to make a move, when I got a call one day asking if I would be interested in interviewing for the CEO position at Harley-Davidson. Johnson Controls is an outstanding organization and I have had a very fulfilling career there. I can assure you I wouldn’t have given that call a minute’s consideration if it wasn’t Harley Davidson. I believe in building strong relationships and in the importance of developing talent. 

You’ll find that I’m an open person and that I place a high priority on integrity, building teams that work well together and inspiring them to win. And no – I’m not a rider just yet, although I vividly recall the adrenaline rush and sense of unbridled freedom from the occasions that I “borrowed” my brother Mike’s motorcycle as a teenager. I’ve got my eye on a Screamin’ Eagle Softail and I’m looking to sign up for a Rider’s Edge course very soon. I’ll then be able to join Mike and all the other members of the extended Harley-Davidson family of riders – including dealers – out on the road. 

Finally, just a note about the road ahead. We all know and appreciate that Harley-Davidson has a uniquely powerful brand and a record of market leadership. 

While every business has its share of extra challenges right now – and I am acutely aware of what many of you are going through in this economy – I firmly believe Harley-Davidson has limitless possibilities to grow, develop and build on our remarkable record. By working together, I am confident that we will be a powerful combination and achieve great success in the years ahead. 

We’ll be in touch again soon, 
Keith

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