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Posts Tagged ‘Keith Wendell’

amf-hdThis year marks a couple of interesting historical points on the Harley-Davidson calendar.  It’s coincidental that 2009 marks the first time a non-motorcycle riding enthusiast (CEO, Keith Wendell) was hired to run the company, and this occurred exactly 40 years after Harley-Davidson merged with American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF).  I don’t know if that is ironic or just business karma?!

At any rate, back in 1965 Harley-Davidson went public when the two families decided to give up control and put the company’s shares on the market.  Four years later, in January 1969 it merged with AMF.  The AMF merger started in 1968 when HD was looking for someone to buy the company.  In May of that year Bangor Punta (BP)** stepped in with an offer of $27 per share.  The HD board was skeptical of BP’s reputation and tenacity in pursuing acquisitions.  They continued to shop the company around.  In October they announced that AMF had struck a deal (at $29) and then a bidding war erupted.  Finally on December 18, 1968 there was a shareholder’s meeting to vote on the AMF merger at $40 per share which was $9 less than the BP offer.  The HD board like AMF’s motorcycle fanboy, Rodney C. Gott, and believed AMF had better alignment.  It was approved and in January 1969 the acquisition became final. 

hd-cartAt the time of the AMF merger, Harley-Davidson was producing 14,000 motorcycles per year.  AMF used the merger as a marketing opportunity to slap the Harley logo on many non-motorcycle-related things they produced, such as their golf carts. Management at HD was overrun by AMF personnel and they streamlined production, and slashed the workforce. The tactic resulted in a labor strike and lower quality motorcycles. The bikes were expensive and inferior in performance, handling, and quality to Japanese motorcycles. Sales declined, quality plummeted, and the company almost went bankrupt.

The marriage between motorcycles and one-time tobacco production equipment company lasted but 12 years.  The 1981 recession severely threatened HD’s share of the market for heavyweight bikes and AMF began to lose interest in keeping the struggling business afloat.  Then Vaughan Beals – who had joined HD in 1975 as VP – and a group of 13 HD exec’s raised $100M and bought the company for $81.5M from AMF on June 16, 1981 and restored the company to an independent status. The marketing phrase “The Eagle Soars Alone” became a rallying cry.  In 1986, HD again went public.

Given that HD is laying off and previously asked the union to approve wage cuts and reduced benefits for everyone in exchange of factory expansion… it’s easy to draw a parallel toward the AMF days?  What do you think?  Will HD roll strikes during this economic recession or gutter balls?

**Bangor Punta Corporation (abbreviated BP and was traded on the NYSE under BNK) was an American conglomerate and Fortune 500 Company from 1964 to 1984. It owned a number of well-known companies primarily in the pleasure craft, firearms and general aviation industries.

Photo courtesy HD.

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day1Keith, your first day is here. That time off sure flew by, didn’t it?

The precarious first day at a new job and the week that follows will be, perhaps, the most trying time in your career. It’s critical you make the right impression.  I have some first day on the job advice…not that you ask, but remember people are going to be watching closely.  Not just stockholders and the board, either.  Co-workers, secretaries and all the other people you come into contact with likely are thinking: “When’s he going to mess up? Will he make it?”

Not to add pressure, but it’s estimated 40% of new hires fail within the first year on the job. You certainly don’t want to fail in the first 8 hours. So, Keith it’s time to wow us on day 1.  Here are 10 steps for your success:

  1. By now you’ve already received the HR call to inform you that everything is in order and the employment contract is in the system.  Hopefully you ask what employees typically wear (black HD logo t-shirts) on casual Friday.  An added touch would have been to call the board personally and tell them how excited you are to start, perhaps an email too.  
  2. Next make sure and determine what your limo drive time is to arrive early.  Nothing impresses the staff more than a boss who arrives before everyone else.  Eat breakfast — fresh breath clean teeth (no poppy seed bagels) are a must.  Take a deep breath and walk in with that — I’m pinching myself because I can’t believe I got this job — smile on your face.
  3. After you arrive job #1: determine where the coffee machine is located.  Job #2: make sure the admin has your PC and email up and running.  You’ll want to gather relevant info on the printer to print your paystub info, then you’ll want to send email and  thank everyone who helped you get the job.  Let them know how ecstatically happy you are they decided to displace other longer-term employees to hire an outsider.
  4. As for lunch?  Don’t go knocking on ‘peeps’ doors at 10:30am asking what time you should take lunch.  It will look like food, not work, is on your mind.
  5. Being it’s a Friday you’ll need to resist the temptation to watch the clock.  Managers hate to see new hires watch the clock on their first afternoon on the job.
  6. Set up meetings with co-workers and get to know them and start building relationships.  Take the initiative to learn the business and read some of the motorcycle shop manuals, engine blueprints and annual reports.  You might even ask to shadow a co-worker in the plant to see how a motorcycle engine gets made.  Avoid the “Willie” design center.  Those artsy marketing types will only distort your “real world” perspective.
  7. It’s always tough to navigate the first assignment.  You’re likely sitting around reading blogs and twiddling your thumbs the first few hours waiting for someone to give you something to do.  The solution is simple.  Ask how you can help.  Don’t be to forward and try not to over step on to other co-workers projects, state you don’t know everything, but are willing to get involved even if it means working on the smallest of issues.
  8.  You’ll have a million questions on your first day.  Carry a pencil and a notepad and write down questions, people’s names and sketch a map of where the rest rooms are located.  It never hurts to over communicate, even if that means talking about how you will communicate while you are communicating.  Killing team performance by over communication is just a fallacy.  Smother them with meetings where you talk about communication styles.
  9. If in doubt utter these words: “That’s not how we did it at my old company” whenever someone asks you for an opinion or advice.  Sure some of the employees might think if it was so great why did you leave, but those individuals are narrow minded.  Remember that notepad?  Add those employees to your “watch” list.  If someone from the board ask you “how’s it going”…. The only acceptable answer is “Wonderful!”
  10. Don’t look for a mentor who will challenge your thinking.  Instead surround yourself with wet blankets and cheerleaders who think everything you say is totally awesome.  Who needs objectivity or critical people around on the first few days when you are on a job honeymoon.  There will be plenty of nay-sayer hanger-on’s later.

I know.  You’re wondering how to thank me?  Let me know which rally you plan to attend and I’ll be there my friend.

Photo courtesy of Oppenheimer.

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elevator_doorsI’ve alerted people to the fact that the groundwork is being laid for a new kind of Harley-Davidson company in the future.  It’s anticipated they will need to aggressively streamline brands, shrink capacity and either eliminate or phase-out certain poor performing models. 

Then this past weekend while many of us were in the Nevada desert, hundreds of rain soaked shareholders packed the Harley-Davidson Museum in Wisconsin to hear the top executives plans for the company.  Or as retiring CEO James Ziemer put it… “one of the most challenging economic times since the Great Depression.”  The Milwaukee Business Journal has more details HERE.  In short, Barry Allen, a director since 1992 was elected as the new board chairman and shareholders voted to end the class structure of company’s director terms.  Essentially putting the board on notice through an annual re-election process.  Also former CEO and current board of directors chairman Jeffrey Bleustein’s formal involvement in the company came to an end.

Ziemer stated that “the company’s fixed cost structure is simply too high.”  They plan to reduce excess capacity and make changes to be more competitive for the long term.  Several shareholders booed Ziemer on the decision to consolidate factories.  Does this imply Harley will now need to consider new China-based facilities to offer a world-class cost structure?  Would manufacturing motorcycles in China disrespect the rich heritage of the Harley brand and the importance of the Americana culture?  In today’s world I’m not so sure it matters to the price savvy consumer.

And speaking of the economy it’s not a surprise, but odd that Harley-Davidson did NOT participate in the Laughlin River Run last week.  Given that customers are now investing more in their current motorcycle vs. trading up you’d think that the largest west coast motorcycle rally is not an event to be snubbed.  Most all the Asian brands were well represented and HD being absent was clearly noticed.

Lastly, either in a sign of these recessionary times or nostalgic admiration for his remarkable 40 year career, the employees presented Ziemer with the original wood doors from the freight elevator he operated when he first was hired at Harley-Davidson.  Ziemer’s 2008 compensation ($5.6M) should allow him to build a new wooden ‘man’ shack to admire those elevator doors during retirement!

Photo courtesy of HD

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jc_t_4002_301Tapping the company that manufactured the electric room thermostat, Johnson Controls Inc. (NYSE:JCI),  Harley-Davidson announced today that Keith E. Wandell will succeed James Ziemer (CEO), who is retiring.  Wandell, 59, currently serves as President and COO of Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls, a $38 billion global company. Wandell is a 21-year veteran of JCI and starts at Harley-Davidson May 1st.

Wandell joined Johnson Controls in 1988 as a plant manager in the Toledo, Ohio battery facility.  He then held positions in the Automotive Experience Group and the Power Solutions business.  He was named president of the Automotive Experience in 2003 which grew to an $18.1B, and 75,000 employee business in FY 2008.

Keith Wandell

Keith Wandell

Johnson Controls has attracted a lot of attention lately as an auto parts supplier and the dire state of the industry/pessimism from wall street.  In February they announced it would shut down 10 factories and slash 4000 jobs.  One would think under Mr. Wandell’s leadership they would be the kind of company that is a major player in green building and sustainability in general.  They are the biggest makers of hybrid car batteries in the U.S. and to their credit they talk a lot about energy efficiency, but the company does not maintain a corporate blog, have Facebook or Twitter “voices” and when it comes to things like LEED certification, green building, and concepts like cradle-to-cradle and carbon emission they are fairly silent.  There is a public facing site which they help maintain on using energy wisely HERE.

Perhaps this is a bright spot in Harley’s history and not a “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” moment for Mr. Wandell.  Time will tell if Wandell can teach an old motorcycle manufacture new tricks.

Photo courtesy JCI.

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