Iron Strong

Harley Davidson’s VRSCF V-Rod Muscle Tens of thousands of leather-clad bikers from around the world converged on southeast Wisconsin in 2008, and they were ready for a party. It was Labor Day weekend, a time for fun regardless, but these thousands, from cities near and far, national and international, were here to celebrate Harley-Davidson’s 105th anniversary. From the outside, everything looked fine. Some 7,500 folks rode in the parade that started at Miller Park, street parties took over Milwaukee’s Downtown and East Side, and Bruce Springsteen played one hell of a show. Rough Riders But on the inside, business was…

Harley Davidson’s VRSCF V-Rod Muscle

Tens of thousands of leather-clad bikers from around the world converged on southeast Wisconsin in 2008, and they were ready for a party. It was Labor Day weekend, a time for fun regardless, but these thousands, from cities near and far, national and international, were here to celebrate Harley-Davidson’s 105th anniversary.

From the outside, everything looked fine. Some 7,500 folks rode in the parade that started at Miller Park, street parties took over Milwaukee’s Downtown and East Side, and Bruce Springsteen played one hell of a show.

Rough Riders

But on the inside, business was rocky, and execs might have been in anything but a partying mood. An unprecedented run of financial success had come to a screeching halt. In 2007, there was a crippling strike at its massive York, Pa., motorcycle assembly plant, and a slide in profit of more than 10 percent to $933.8 million. Sales also began a downward trend. Prior to that dip, Harley-Davidson had recorded 20 consecutive years of increased sales and motorcycle shipments. But that was history.

In 2008, financial performance worsened, with full-year profits plummeting to $654.7 million. And in 2009, the year began with an announcement that more than 1,000 jobs would be cut over a two-year span, including nearly 650 in Milwaukee, due in large part to waning consumer demand for big-ticket items and a need to reduce motorcycle production. The company would end up taking a $55.1 million loss for the year. With the layoffs came plans to close Harley-Davidson’s Wauwatosa factory – where motorcycle powertrain production had taken place – to consolidate operations at its Menomonee Falls plant.

Come spring, there was even more change and a massive announcement. Jim Ziemer, the longtime Harley chief financial officer who became chief executive officer in 2005, would retire. Ziemer had spent 40 years with the company and followed former CEO Jeffrey Bleustein, a somewhat legendary figure in Harley circles because of his key role in the 1981 management buyout from American Machine and Foundry. Many believe that saved the company from extinction.

Hear more about Harley-Davidson on WUWM’s “Lake Effect” July 11 at 10 a.m.

Since the buyout, business had been rosy, and succession plans successful. An insular company, no outsider had broken into the Harley culture at the highest levels. And no outsider needed to. But Keith Wandell would change that. He climbed the corporate ranks of Johnson Controls, the largest Wisconsin-based publicly traded company, and served as its president and chief operating officer. And in May 2009, this 21-year veteran of that buttoned-down company, with its international headquarters in Glendale and a major divisional operation in Downtown Milwaukee, would become the first outsider to take the Harley-Davidson helm in 28 years.

Reaction was mixed.

Was he too close to the struggling automotive business at Johnson Controls? Would he wear a suit to the office? And honestly, what could he possibly know about Harley-Davidson?

Was Harley-Davidson doomed?

Standing 6-foot-3, Wandell can be an imposing figure.

A native of Lima, Ohio, which is situated in the northwest part of the state between Dayton and Toledo, Wandell speaks with a noticeable Ohio accent, almost a southern liltsu. If he’s not talking motorcycles, his subject matter of choice is The Ohio State University, where four of his five children earned degrees. Although he is an Ohio University graduate, he loves OSU’s highly touted football program. OSU drink coasters rest on a table in his office.

He’s certainly no Badger.

But inside his office, four years after taking the top job at Harley and just months away from the company’s 110th anniversary celebration, the 63-year-old looks distinctly Wisconsin. Or at least distinctly Harley. Brightly painted gas tanks adorn a shelf. A brown 2012 Road Glide development bike sits inside the room, and another motorcycle is just outside where the door would be. But the fourth floor of the corporate building along West Juneau Avenue on Milwaukee’s West Side is curiously free of doors. Except for the human resources and legal departments, none of the executive offices lining the hallway has one. As part of Harley’s “open-door” management policy, the doors were removed from their hinges prior to Wandell’s arrival.

But Wandell has embraced the concept, often spreading the open-door gospel at employee town hall meetings. He’s also embraced the need for sweeping change.

Upon settling into his new digs, Wandell immediately set Harley-Davidson on a new course. During the time since he took over as CEO, Harley-Davidson has been undergoing a major restructuring and morphing into a vastly different entity, in large part as a matter of financial necessity. Although the initial framework for the restructuring was established shortly before his arrival, Wandell has made a series of gut-wrenching decisions to get Harley-Davidson back on track.

He eliminated the Buell brand of sport motorcycles and closed the Buell Motorcycle Co. factory in East Troy. He sold MV Agusta, Harley-Davidson’s Italian sport motorcycle subsidiary. And he led a major manufacturing restructuring at factories in York, Milwaukee and Kansas City. Renegotiated contracts tied to the restructuring allowed Harley-Davidson to reduce the Milwaukee area’s permanent hourly production workforce to as little as 700 workers beginning last year, about 250 less than required under the prior contract. (In addition to the plant in Menomonee Falls, Harley operates a research and development center in Wauwatosa.) With those changes came the corresponding loss of hundreds of jobs, which riled the rank-and-file workforce.

Wandell’s hiring also came as Harley faced rapidly declining sales in the midst of considerable economic turmoil. There was a growing sentiment among industry observers that the company’s failure to look beyond its core demographic – middle-aged white men with the disposable income necessary to purchase expensive motorcycles – had worsened its financial predicament.

“When I joined the company, [the dealers’] biggest issue was that sales were off 40 percent,” Wandell says. “Earnings were in a free fall. That created a whole other dimension of complexity for the company. We had long lead times on manufacturing bikes. We shipped the bikes we made, but they might not have been the bikes the dealers wanted at that particular time for their market.”

As a result, Wandell says, the relationship between Harley-Davidson management and dealers was strained.

 “Five years ago, we were in a different position, and it wasn’t good,” says Chaz Hastings, owner of Milwaukee Harley-Davidson on the city’s Northwest Side. “It had already started to melt down. It was a really bad period that most of us went through.”

Harley lost close to 100 dealers during the downturn, says Hastings, who was a district manager for Harley-Davidson prior to becoming a dealer.

Today, the relationship with dealers is markedly improved, Wandell insists.

“We have 1,450-plus independent dealers around the world, so it’s always going to be hard to satisfy everyone,” Wandell says. “But I think in general, our dealers, since the downturn, are more profitable. Business is better. I think there’s a closer working relationship.”

Hastings has seen the change firsthand.

“There were a lot of people that were very upset, scared and worried when [Wandell] first started making changes,” Hastings says. “But everything had been going so smooth and so good before, and I think a lot of people got complacent. I think that he really kick-started a movement that has been great for the company and dealers. Things had to change. He made the tough changes, but he communicated it well. I’m comfortable with the direction.”

Hastings has a reputation for pushing the envelope. Past parties at his dealership have included pornographic film actresses, wet T-shirt contests and what’s believed to be the world’s biggest beer bong. Musician Kid Rock and Jesse James, who gained fame through a Discovery Channel show that focused on his custom motorcycle business and later drew attention for his tumultuous marriage to actress Sandra Bullock, have shown up at the dealership.

“We really put ourselves on the map for the 105th,” Hastings says. “For the 110th, we’re really going to crush it.”

Although it may appear to be sophomoric fun and games, Hastings says the driving force behind much of what he does is getting customers in the door. He advertises heavily on local radio stations, and in May, a tattoo parlor opened inside the dealership.

“It’ll bring in a lot of younger people,” he says.

He’s not talking about Don Witynski. At age 51 and white, a middle-aged baby boomer with a white-collar job at a software firm that pays a relatively handsome salary, Witynski is the spitting image of what many believe to be the typical Harley-Davidson rider. And he’s part of a demographic that many industry observers argue has been the focal point of Harley’s marketing efforts for too long. Some even say the company’s financial struggles during the recession worsened because of a failure to attract customers outside of its core segment.

“We’ve heard that our riders are aging,” says Mark-Hans Richer, Harley-Davidson’s chief marketing officer, who can be seen cruising around on his Road Glide Custom or V-Rod Muscle, both painted in denim black. “People think our core riders will be going away. It’s kind of like they stopped making Caucasian men in 1980.”

And even as baby boomers move out of the core age-group segment, Richer says U.S. Census data shows that Gen Xers and millennials will move in. “There is no decline,” he says. “We can stay strong and grow with our core market and grow with outreach, too.”

Witynski bought his first Harley, a used 1999 Heritage Softail, just in time for the 100th anniversary bash. “The sound a Harley makes, the look of a Harley, it’s American muscle, plain and simple,” Witynski says, decked out in gray and black Harley-Davidson clothing. In the decade since the purchase, he’s developed a fierce loyalty to the brand.

He has a shaved head, often sports a scraggly goatee and is partial to shirts, hats, bandanas, really anything bearing the Harley-Davidson name and its ubiquitous bar and shield logo. It’s a persona all its own.

“I certainly have my alter ego when I’m on my bike and in my leathers,” the Greendale resident says. “I’m not a hard-ass, but I think people sometimes look at me like I’m a hard-ass.”

But the face of the company is changing, with a concentrated effort to appeal to a wider range of consumers without leaving the ever-important lifeblood, like Witynski, in the dust. Key corporate decision-makers, as well as dealers, say they’ve been working aggressively to expand the brand’s reach to include younger riders, women and minorities, as well as consumers in foreign markets.

“It’s good for the brand. It’s good for Harley,” Witynski says, who is also a longtime Harley shareholder. “It will ensure that Harley is around, as long as they don’t screw it up again.”

Wandell freely admits that having no loyalties within the organization when he took over gave him the freedom to make radical and immediate changes, the kind that a leader who’d risen through the ranks probably wouldn’t have been able to pull off.

At a shareholders meeting in April 2010, Wandell’s first as CEO, he engaged in a question-and-answer session with audience members in what turned out to be a defining moment early in his tenure, especially when a longtime Harley-Davidson factory worker questioned his commitment to preserving jobs.

“I wish to God I could stand in front of everybody and say that you’re going to be guaranteed a job for life,” Wandell told the employee. “We’d all be great friends and pat each other on the back and walk into the sunset together. You know what? Life isn’t that simple.”

It’s a sunny Saturday morning in late April, and more than 300 people, many arriving on motorcycles, are packing a meeting room at the Menomonee Valley’s Harley-Davidson Museum for the company’s annual shareholders meeting. It’s been three years since the notorious Q&A, and the tone has changed considerably.

Most meetings of this type draw miniscule crowds, a point not lost on Matt Levatich, president and chief operating officer of Harley-Davidson Motor Co., the operating unit of Harley-Davidson Inc.

“This is awesome,” Levatich tells the audience. “I was at another annual meeting this week, and there wasn’t one shareholder there. What this talks about is the passion for the brand.” Levatich, a 19-year employee at Harley-Davidson who many industry observers believe is a top candidate to succeed Wandell, points out a shareholder who has traveled from Colorado for the 90-minute meeting. Also in attendance is 80-year-old Willie G. Davidson, the grandson of company co-founder William A. Davidson and son of the former Harley president, William H. Davidson. Known simply as “Willie G” in Harley circles, he’s become a cult figure of sorts for his work in designing motorcycles. He held the title of senior vice president and chief styling officer at the time of his retirement in 2012, after nearly 50 years with the company.

Harley-Davidson, Levatich continues, is in the midst of a new strategic path that is broadening the reach and appeal of the brand, both in the United States and abroad. “We’re just itching to show the world what’s in the product pipeline,” says Levatich, who rides a 110th anniversary CVO Road Glide and a 2012 Sportster XR1200X.

In an earlier interview, Levatich stressed that change has become an essential part of Harley-Davidson’s business strategy. “We live in a dynamic world, and we’re going to have to be a dynamic company,” he says. “It’s a never-ending journey.”

A strategy focused on expanding the relevance of the brand has been “pretty successful so far,” says Richer, Harley’s chief marketing officer. But that wasn’t true five years ago, shortly after he joined Harley on the heels of nine years as director of marketing for General Motors.

“We’ve now taken a different approach,” Richer says. “The idea of personal freedom is more of a universal idea that is translated lots of different ways. So in order to get to that point, people approach it slightly differently, so we have to approach them differently.”

What that translates to is Harley-Davidson “unbundling” its marketing, taking a more segmented approach toward young adults, women, minorities and another key constituency – consumers outside the United States. “We’re not changing who we are. We’re just letting more people discover themselves through us in ways that are more relevant,” Richer says. Then he’s momentarily distracted by an incoming call on his cell phone, which is signaled by a revving motorcycle engine ringtone.

Harley-Davidson’s traditional marketing delivered a universal message focused on the brand’s core imagery. “It was very successful for us, but we had to take that and build on it,” Richer says.

Now, there’s the Dark Custom line of bikes, first introduced in 2008, that feature less chrome and more black-colored components. “Young adults were telling us they didn’t want a big chrome bike,” Richer says. “They may want a big bike, but they don’t want the same chrome cruiser as their dad or grandpa. But they still want a Harley.” Dark Custom, he continues, is “probably the biggest reason for our success with young adults.”

Hard Candy Custom also appeals to the younger clientele. It features brightly colored metallic paint mirroring a trend that has emerged from garages around the world, similar in style to motorcycles that were on the road in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Colors include Lucky Green Flake and Coloma Gold Flake.

Other youth outreach efforts include a broad sponsorship agreement with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. That dovetails with efforts to extend the company’s appeal with Latinos, which include commissioning a documentary that follows a group of Latino Harley-Davidson riders, referred to as Harlistas. Harley also runs Black History Month promotions and events at Bike Week in Daytona honoring African-American riders.

Motorcycles designed to sit lower to the ground that are easier to handle have sparked interest among female consumers. So have women’s-only garage parties with motorcycle demonstrations, not to mention Harley-

Davidson Pink Label gear and apparel, sales of which benefit organizations seeking a cure for breast cancer.

Although Harley has been expanding its focus, it isn’t about to shove its core consumers aside, Richer insists. “It’s not an ‘either-or’ proposition. We never wanted to change what Harley stood for. We just wanted to broaden its relevance.”

Successfully appealing to consumers beyond its traditional core is certain to be an ongoing challenge, says Tom O’Guinn, a marketing professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The instinct to try to do this is correct, but this is a brand that is drenched in outlaw testosterone,” O’Guinn says. “It’s going to be really tough for Harley.”

Few brands, however, inspire loyalty like Harley-Davidson, says Craig Kennison, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., a Milwaukee investment banking firm. As evidence, he says there are more than 1 million Harley Owners Group, or HOG, members; more than 500,000 riders who attend the long-running motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., every year; and the fact that Harley-Davidson is among the most popular tattoo of any brand.

In addition, Interbrand, a New York-based consulting firm with offices worldwide, ranks Harley-Davidson among the top 100 global brands.

Successfully expanding the appeal will take “money and smart marketing,” O’Guinn says. “You’re also going to have to have some patient management.”

Corporate and dealer-driven programs, such as the garage parties for women and boot camps for new riders, have been essential, says Hastings. “There’s been tremendous work put in by [Harley-Davidson] and the dealers to make sure we are going after a lot of diversity.”

Take a look at the hard numbers, and it appears the efforts are working. In 2012, for the first time ever, motorcycle sales to young adults, women, blacks and Hispanics grew at a faster rate than sales to traditional customers. A blog by Washington Post columnist Neil Irwin, after an upbeat earnings report in January 2013, praised Harley for its efforts. “If the Republican Party had been as successful at expanding its appeal beyond middle-aged white men as Harley-Davidson,” Irwin wrote, “Mitt Romney would be president right now.”

Kennison stated in a recent research note his surprise at hearing continuing chatter about Harley’s perceived myopic focus on middle-aged white men, tersely dismissing the concerns as “misguided.”

“In reality, Harley has made huge strides with nontraditional riders, including women, youth, African-Americans, Hispanics and international customers,” Kennison says, “and market segmentation tends to prove it.”

Harley-Davidson now owns the No. 1 market share in all of its “outreach” segments – women, minorities and younger riders.

“We got extremely focused on these markets and in understanding the differences in what drives consumer preferences,” Wandell says. “The products we’ve brought to market are more user-friendly and more on-target with what those folks are looking for and demanding. I think our product development people are doing a better job listening to our customers and dealers.”

Diana Boggs bought her Harley-Davidson motorcycle at the urging of her husband. “He told me I would look hot on my own bike,” says Boggs, who, when the weather allows, rides from her home in West Bend to the Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Franklin, where she works as a nurse. “I’m not sure of that, but he was right that I would love the experience, even though I sometimes miss riding on the back of his bike.”

Cindy Dadian had never owned a motorcycle and had no experience as a rider. Nonetheless, she bought a 2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe in late summer 2010.

“Having a two-wheeler was always something that I wanted to do, and I suppose that being a middle-aged woman with some disposable income helped,” Dadian says.

The lure of the brand, combined with modifications to certain motorcycles to attract female riders, won her over.

“The sound, the mystique, the ability to customize and have my bike fit my style,” she says. “Another plus for me was the fact that the seat height was lower, even with a larger bike. I am more comfortable with both feet planted firmly on the ground.”

When Harley-Davidson management set out to negotiate new contracts with unionized workers in 2007, drama ensued. Harley was requiring workers to accept a variety of concessions and allow for the use of seasonal workers to meet peak demand. If workers in Pennsylvania didn’t agree, Harley said they’d move operations to Shelbyville, Ky. A similar situation cropped up during negotiations with workers in Wisconsin.

Eventually, insists Wandell, factory workers accepted the changes, even when it meant bringing on seasonal workers. But it wasn’t easy. “The attitude they’ve taken is that these people also need a job,” he says. “But I can’t sit here and tell you that every person loves it.”

Today, Harley employs 2,695 people in the Milwaukee area, including 850 hourly unionized workers and 195 “flexible,” seasonal employees.

This is all part of Harley-Davidson’s effort to focus on the products it brings to market and, even more basic than that, how it goes about making motorcycles.

Revamped manufacturing operations are in full force at Harley’s major assembly plant in York, and they’re also being implemented at the Menomonee Falls plant. A similar effort will take place at the Kansas City plant next year.

Implementing flexible manufacturing processes is allowing Harley-Davidson to produce motorcycles based on seasonal demand.

“We’ll be able to get bikes into the dealership for consumers when they want them,” Wandell says. “If you are looking at a new bike that requires a new frame or drivetrain or both, it used to be 5 1/2 years. It’s now three to 3 1/2. It allows us to have more capacity to produce more new, cool products, and since we’re doing it with a more rigorous and clearly defined methodology, it allows us to do it with less cost.”

But there has been a price to pay for making Harley leaner and meaner. High restructuring costs led to a fourth-quarter 2009 net loss of $218.7 million. It marked the first three-month loss for Harley since 1993.

An economic recovery marked by fits and starts also kept Harley-Davidson’s sales and profit from kicking into a higher gear. After a brutal downturn in which U.S. shipments fell by more than 50 percent in 2009, Harley has been on a steady path to recovery, says Kennison, the Baird analyst. Management used the crisis to restructure the organization, refocus on the Harley-Davidson brand and rekindle growth, he adds.

Harley-Davidson’s growth prospects aren’t limited to the United States. Aggressive international expansion has been buoyed by the opening of 31 dealerships in 18 countries – including Malaysia, Russia, Turkey and Bolivia – in 2012. Six more dealerships have opened this year, including ones in South Africa and the Philippines.

Nearly 100 dealerships have opened in international markets since 2009 as part of a plan to add as many as 150 independent dealerships outside of the U.S. by 2014, on top of a base of about 650.

China and India, the world’s two most populous countries, have been the focus of considerable effort, despite numerous challenges and limited sales to this point.

“There are inroads in China,” Wandell says. “We’ve opened a few new dealerships, and we continue to increase sales, although they are still small.”

Harley-Davidson’s governmental affairs team has been working to address various regulations that have hindered efforts, like limits on where large motorcycles can be driven in China’s biggest cities. Wandell says inroads are being made in getting the message out to consumers in China and India about riding motorcycles for leisure. The vast majority of consumers in those countries still view motorcycles as strictly utilitarian, he says.

“We have good brand identity in China,” Levatich says. “China has fantastic roads and scenery. Consumers have increasing disposable income and leisure time and a growing middle class. It has all the markers of what we’ve seen historically as favoring our industry. We want to be a part of that in a big way.”

A series of rides being held around the world to mark Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary included a gathering in the coastal resort state of Goa, India, earlier this year that drew about 7,000 riders. “The passion, the love of the brand, all of those things were just as evident there as anywhere else,” Wandell says.

Harley-Davidson is assembling motorcycles in India from kits of U.S.-made parts. This is being done to lower costly tariffs that would apply if fully assembled bikes were exported to India from the U.S. A similar arrangement has been in place in Brazil since 1998.

To this point, Harley-Davidson has no full-fledged production operations outside of the United States. Union leaders and consumers alike have been adamant that Harley-Davidson motorcycles be made in the United States.

“I don’t see a day when we’re going to import bikes from overseas for sale in the U.S. market,” Levatich says. “But how we might invest in other countries in developing those markets, we will look at other opportunities – as we should.”

A market like India, Levatich says, could someday support a full-scale manufacturing operation if appropriate sales volumes are reached.

After more than four years on the job and with many of the major changes taking hold, Wandell has, for all intents and purposes, assimilated.

“I would like to believe that I’m part of the culture now,” Wandell says. “I wear jeans and Harley shirts to work. I think that I have a good relationship with the employees and dealers. I’m not necessarily viewed as an outsider anymore.”

Wandell has been handsomely compensated since arriving at Harley. He received salary payments of $1.08 million in 2012, up from about $975,000 the previous year, according to a proxy statement filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. After requesting and receiving no salary increase for 2011, Wandell received a base salary increase of 12.8 percent starting in March 2012, which brought his base salary in line with the competitive market for Harley-Davidson’s peer groups, according to the proxy filing.

The company also paid Wandell a discretionary cash bonus of $475,000, compared with $366,000 in 2011, and a performance-based cash bonus of $5.4 million, more than double the $2.4 million he received a year earlier. Adding stock awards to the mix, Wandell’s total 2012 compensation stood at $10.3 million, up 43 percent from the $7.2 million in total compensation he received in 2011.

Through the years and the raises, Wandell is confident in the changes he’s made. Even with the benefit of hindsight, he insists he would do little differently.

“That’s not to say that we’ve done everything perfectly, but I have no regrets, in terms of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Wandell says. “It’s clear that we have a much stronger, more sustainable business in place today. That’s a tribute to all of our employees, suppliers and dealers.”

Wall Street can attest.

Harley’s stock price hit a 52-week high of $59.84 on May 20. The company reported a profit of $224.1 million in the first quarter of this year, an increase of 30 percent when compared with profit of $172 million for the same quarter a year earlier. And revenue from the motorcycle business, excluding the company’s financial services arm, increased 11 percent to $1.41 billion.

Harley-Davidson also reported that it expects savings of about $305 million this year from the restructuring measures initiated in 2009. And annual savings are expected to rise to about $320 million starting in 2014.

Dealers’ sales of motorcycles in the United States, however, declined by nearly 13 percent in the first quarter. Management attributes the dip to the high retail sales volume early last year resulting from a mild winter and early spring. Still, the improved overall financial health of Harley-Davidson has dealers like Hastings in a much better frame of mind.

“The last two years have been very good for us,” Hastings says. “Wandell and his team should be commended for everything they have done. I think they really saved the company on this one.”

Getting employees to embrace change in a company that historically had been slow to do so, and cutting jobs as part of the overall action plan, has created the most consternation for Wandell.

“Anytime that you’re driving decisions that significantly impact people’s current situation, it comes down to how you do it,” he says. “You can’t drive in a finishing nail with a jackhammer. You have to do it in a way that people, while not necessarily happy that things are changing, understand it.”

In August, just ahead of Milwaukee’s 110th anniversary celebration Labor Day weekend, Kennison expects Harley-Davidson to release a more robust product lineup, the first to benefit from the fundamental changes under Wandell. Combine this with the other dramatic Wandell-led changes that are finally taking root, and it raises the specter of how long he intends to remain with the company. At age 63, he says there’s no “short-term” plan to ride off into the sunset.

“There’s nothing definitive at this point,” Wandell insists. “One of my biggest responsibilities is that whenever we make the next transition, that it’s done seamlessly, and that we have a very strong management team in place to drive the business forward in meaningful ways. We talk a lot about succession planning, and not just for my job.”

Even if Wandell’s departure is sooner rather than later, Hastings says he isn’t worried. “Keith has set it up well enough that if he did decide to head out the door, he’s got people that drank the Kool-Aid and get it. He’s got a team left there that understands.”

Wandell hadn’t been on a motorcycle in years before taking the job but now owns four – a Road King Classic, a custom Street Glide and a pair of custom Road Glide models. Three of the bikes are stored at his second home in South Carolina. He rides whenever his schedule allows and has participated in the motorcycle rally in Sturgis and taken part in rides to Mount Fuji in Japan and along the Great Wall in China.

Seated in his office in an orange high-back chair bearing the Harley bar and shield emblem, Wandell appears at ease and expresses no regrets.

“I’m more than pleased that I made the decision to come over here,” he says. “This has been a really unique opportunity. It’s been unbelievably gratifying. Just the opportunity to be associated with an iconic brand has been awesome.”

This article appears in the July 2013 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.