On the eve of its 100th anniversary,
Harley-Davidson's Jeffrey Bleustein explains how his
almost-bankrupt company rewon customers's hearts.
While many companies struggled in 2001 with the global recession,
Harley-Davidson set a new record for profits.
An enviable position, indeed. But earnings of $435 million on $3.3
billion in revenues were only one reason why Milwaukee-based Harley
earned laurels as Forbes' Company of the Year. There's also its
phenomenal long-term earnings growth (an average of 37 percent per
year since the company went public in 1986) and stock performance
(Harley shares have skyrocketed by 15,000 percent since '86).
It's been a long road uphill since Harley bottomed out in the
1980s, when it teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Such stellar
statistics don't happen by accident at a once-troubled company. It
takes commitment and passion, and Harley's engine is purring with
both. CEO Jeffrey Bleustein, 62, who started at Harley in 1975 as
vice president of engineering, talks to Ameri-can Way about how
Harley, now 7,800 employees strong, keeps the passion - and the
growth - coming with its unusual approach to teamwork.
American Way: Harley spent 6,000 employee hours on what you
called the Joint Vision Process. Tell us about that.
Jeffrey Bleustein: We were trying to change the management
mecha-nism that had helped us during the survival struggle, the
traditional command-and-control structure, to move it toward
something that could better sustain growth. We realized the key was
to push decision-making, planning, and strategizing from a handful
of people at the top, down throughout the organization. We wanted
all the employees to think every day about how to improve the