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 company.