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Harley Davidson: Success on the Open Road Essay

The Harley-Davidson name is synonymous with the all-American motorcycle, which is an honor that the company has earned in over a century of rise and fall business. When it was founded by the Davidson brothers, William and Arthur, in 1903, the company was the only producer of motorcycles in the country. By 1911, 150 other motorcycle brands were competing for space on the open roads. But the great depression devastated the industry and by the 1930’s only Harley-Davidson and one other brand, Indian, survived.

Indian closed in 1953 and Harley flourished in a time when the American Motorcycle was becoming imbedded in the culture through black jacket fashion and cool-riding lifestyle. To say the company’s brand name is strong is a powerful understatement. After all, what other company has its name tattooed on customers’ arms? Harley-Davidson is more than a brand and more than a trend; it’s a lifestyle and a culture that’s built on 100 years of tradition. Harley-Davidson and its customers have a distinctive character that is feared by some and coveted by others.

Personable, yet untouchable, the brand is consistent in its polarity and revels in its diversity. In its 2002 Annual Report, CEO Jeffery Bleustein begins his Chairman’s

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letter by making a parallel between Harley people and Harley performance: For even as I marveled at how far Harley-Davidson has come over the years, I was constantly reminded of how far we can still go. I could see it in the faces around me – people of all ages and backgrounds who had come together to celebrate the spirit of our company. They, and others like them all over the world, represent the future of our business.

And with their dreams to guide us, we must reach deep inside ourselves and take hold of that future with more resolve than ever before (5). This excerpt proves that the people of Harley Davidson will stare change in the eye and overcome challenge with an ambitious approach. Harley Davidson has had to overcome some serious challenges in its long and illustrious history, the most recent being an imbalance in supply and demand that has created a flourishing black market, with bikes selling for more than the suggested retail price and customers high on waiting lists selling their places to impatient buyers lower down (Imperato 1).

To combat this, the financial arm of the company has offered promotions, such as the zero-percent financing option, which has failed to attract new business. This is because offerings like this don’t fit with its primary demographic: 42. 4 years old, earns about $79,488. 00 each year, has 2. 3 kids, cheats on his taxes and is up to his ears in debt (Berko 9). To capture the hearts of this unique audience, Harley Davidson must eminate its distinctive personality from within. Their goal is to increase production without comprimising the quality of the culture that values communication over hierarchy.

Beneath the image of a hard-riding, tough-as-nails Harley-Davidson bike is a company that thrives on the “soft” side of management, emphasizing participation, inclusion, learning, and cooperation (Imperato, 3). This begins at the top of management, with an unconventional organization chart that is comprised of three overlapping circles, instead of the traditional pyramid. The circles include: a Create Demand Circle, a Produce Products Circle, a Support Circle, and in the center where the three circles intersect, a Leadership and Strategy Council (Imperato 3).

In this way, information is shared between groups that, in a conventional structure, exist as independent silos that rarely communicate. The circle organization emphasizes participation and collaboration (Imperato 4). The overlap strategy allows plenty of opportunity for shared communication so that leadership has a 360 degree view of the primary issues in the company. This includes strategic plans, operating budgest and policies that affect all employees, which are stored and organized within the relative circles before being shared with the group as a whole.

The company values training and education; it strives to build the smartest workforce in the industry. In addition to providing workers with 80 hours of training each year, Harley uses specific approaches to building its corporate intelligence (Imperato 5). It developed its own education center, Harley Davidson University, to help train and support dealers with the information they need to be successful. The dealers are encouraged to write their own mission statements. Some examples are listed below:

Brandt’s Harley Davidson is a company moving forward with unparallel integrity and a commitment to customer satisfaction since 1949 and far into the future. (Brandt’s Harley Davidson online 1) Our goal here at Harley-Davidson of Jamestown is to provide each person coming through our doors with an experience that cannot be found elsewhere. Customer service and 100% customer satisfaction is our #1 priority. Honest sincere, competent and friendly staff are waiting to give you a reason to return (Jamestown Harley Davidson online 1).

While each dealer is encouraged to create his or her own identity in the marketplace, consistencies in core values are emphasized. Note the focus on customer service in the mission statement examples. Placing customers at the top of the priority list is key to the company’s success. In fact, a 15-year-old initiative to build a life-long relationship between the company and its customers, HOG is the world’s largest factory-sponsored motorcycle club, with 325,000 members and 940 chapters (Imperato 6). This “all about the people” approach is one of the main attributes that sets Harley Davidson apart from its competitors.

The company practices what it preaches both inside the company and out. Employees are empowered to take ownership of their positions and be accountable for their actions, which makes them feel more valuable, like the company’s successes are their own. It’s more than a paycheck, it’s a process – each employee signs a contract that they will work toward annual measurable goals. They are rewarded for their part in achieving the larger objectives. It’s an approach that values the individual within the scope of the team and one that drives a company built on the experience of two wheels on an open road.


Berko, M. “The timing is not right to go whole hog on Harley Davidson. ” San Antonio Business Journal online. August, 2003. <http://www. bizjournals. com/sanantonio/stories/2003/08/11/smallb5. html> Brandt’s Harley Davidson online. April, 2005. <http://www. brandtshd. com> Harley Davidson, Inc. “Harley Davidson, Inc. Annual Report, 2002. ” Annual Report: 5. Imperato, Gina. “Harley shifts gears. ” Fast Company June/July 1997: 104. Jamestown Harley Davidson online. April, 2005 <http://www. jamestownharley. com/HTML/mission. html>

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