Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Harley CEO Keith Wandell Will Ride to Sturgis Rally
Keith Wandell had his work cut out for him when he signed on as CEO of Harley-Davidson in April, 2009.

Not only did the 21 year veteran of automotively-oriented Johnson Controls join the bike builder in the midst of unprecedented turbulence, Wandell immediately questioned the efficiency of the company's York facility, jettisoned Buell and initiated the divestiture of MV Agusta, and even threatened to leave Harley's hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin if unions didn't slash their costs.

And talk about a crash course in Motorcycles 101: when he joined Harley, the non-riding Wandell was heralded by one paper as a "leader [who] lacks leathers, but not executive skill" in an article that also noted that since the company's management buyout in 1981, four consecutive CEOs came from within the company.

Wandell attempted to build credibility in his new two-wheeled leadership role by taking a Harley Rider's Edge course and acquiring a Hog of his own, and his latest venture involves riding to the Sturgis Rally along with fellow Harley big wigs. Setting out from Milwaukee on August 5, 2010, the executive group is encouraging regular Joes to join the ride and shoot the breeze at stops and dealer events along the way.

Can Wandell grasp the intangibles of the biker lifestyle through gradual immersion? And more importantly, does it matter whether Harley's CEO-- the leader of what is arguably the most internationally recognizable motorcycle company in the world-- is a Harley aficionado?

If you question Wandell's two-wheeled passion and his ability to shepherd H-D's recovery, consider the case of Alan Mulally. Though the ex-Boeing exec wasn't a rabid car enthusiast per se, his finance and managerial experience enabled him to turn the company around and avoid the bankruptcy fate that befell GM and Chrysler... but I'm glad to see you're taking this whole riding thing seriously, Mr. Wandell. While you're soaking it all in, it might-- at the very least-- help you understand what motivates folks to purchase your bikes and buy into that inimitable lifestyle your brand so effectively represents.

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