Harley-Davidson, Inc. today named Keith E. Wandell as president and CEO, succeeding James L. Ziemer, who is retiring.
Wandell, who currently serves as president and COO of Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls, Inc. and plans to take the reigns at H-D on May 1, today sent this letter to dealers:
First things first. I want you to know how excited I am to be joining this legendary company. One thing I've admired over the years, while living here in Harley-Davidson's hometown of Milwaukee, is the tremendous power of the brand, and the many ways it touches lives and makes emotional connections with customers from around the world. I have especially loved taking in the anniversary celebrations - three of them now in the time we’ve lived here in the Milwaukee area - not only because they are just plain fun, but also because everyone is welcome to join in and be a part of the celebration and the Harley-Davidson family. I've also gotten a great sense of the power of the brand over the years from my older brother Mike, an avid Harley rider and active member in his local HOG chapter in my home state of Ohio. Believe me when I say how honored and thrilled I am to be coming into this very special family.
I am looking forward tremendously to this opportunity to take what I've learned over the years about driving growth, developing and motivating talent and producing strong operational results in a global business, and together with you and the entire team at Harley-Davidson, help take a highly successful Harley-Davidson to an even brighter future.
You probably have a number of questions about the moves that Harley Davidson has announced. Over the coming weeks and months, one of my top priorities is to spend time with dealers, where we can talk face-to-face, I can listen and learn about your businesses, and you can learn more about me and my priorities and vision for this company. I also know you have questions about the leadership change at the top of Harley-Davidson Motor Company, where Matt Levatich has been named President and Chief Operating Officer, succeeding Jim McCaslin. I know that Jim has worked closely with the dealer network and will continue to do so. And those of you who know Matt, know him to be a great guy and a highly skilled leader. Look for a note from Matt this week about his new role and thoughts he has about working effectively with all of you on behalf of Harley-Davidson Motor Company.
For now, I’ll pose a few questions that I bet are on your mind:
- “What does this news of Keith’s appointment mean for me as a dealer?”
- What does Keith know about Harley-Davidson and why is the Company
bringing in a newcomer to lead the organization?”
- “And who is this guy, ‘Wandell’?”
Let’s start with the first question. It is crystal clear to me through the many discussions I’ve had during the interview process that Harley-Davidson has the best motorcycle dealer network in the world, bar none. The nearly 1,400 independent Harley-Davidson dealers worldwide live and breathe Harley Davidson in your communities, and I am keenly aware that you are key to our mutual success. I also know that Harley-Davidson has a great group of highly motivated and talented employees who are incredibly passionate about their work and continue to dial it on every day.
My job is to help the team of dealers and our employees harness and enable all the energy and passion that’s evident in this enterprise, as we work together to reach our mutual full potential and success. As for what I know about Harley-Davidson and why the Company is bringing in a newcomer, my overarching priority is to assure your long-term vitality and ours. We will do that through new products, technologies, demographic markets and global markets, and at the same time through our ongoing strong commitment to traditional markets and core customers. I understand and appreciate the importance of growing in ways that are true to the Harley-Davidson culture – always remembering where we came from but always ready to explore new horizons.
One of the key ways that I am going to learn about the business is to get around the Company, meet with dealers as I mentioned, go to rallies and H.O.G. events where I can get to know our customers better and see as much as possible firsthand. I’m going listen carefully to dealers and employees, and get your perspectives about the business. I’m going to ask lots of questions. What do we do well? What can we do better to grow and serve our mutual customers well? Frankly, I can hardly wait to get started.
Now let me tell you a little bit more about myself. I’m a family guy who’s been married to my wife Deb for 27 years and have five children - two working, two in college and our 16-year-old daughter who is still at home with us here in Milwaukee. I love to play golf, although I’m pretty certain I will be switching some of my “tee times” to “riding time” in the very near future.
I’ve had a great 21-year career at Johnson Controls, which among other things is one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers. And I really wasn't looking to make a move, when I got a call one day asking if I would be interested in interviewing for the CEO position at Harley-Davidson. Johnson Controls is an outstanding organization and I have had a very fulfilling career there. I can assure you I wouldn't have given that call a minute’s consideration if it wasn’t Harley Davidson. I believe in building strong relationships and in the importance of developing talent.
You’ll find that I’m an open person and that I place a high priority on integrity, building teams that work well together and inspiring them to win. And no – I’m not a rider just yet, although I vividly recall the adrenaline rush and sense of unbridled freedom from the occasions that I “borrowed” my brother Mike’s motorcycle as a teenager. I’ve got my eye on a Screamin’ Eagle Softail and I’m looking to sign up for a Rider’s Edge course very soon. I’ll then be able to join Mike and all the other members of the extended Harley-Davidson family of riders – including dealers – out on the road.
Finally, just a note about the road ahead. We all know and appreciate that Harley-Davidson has a uniquely powerful brand and a record of market leadership.
While every business has its share of extra challenges right now – and I am acutely aware of what many of you are going through in this economy – I firmly believe Harley-Davidson has limitless possibilities to grow, develop and build on our remarkable record. By working together, I am confident that we will be a powerful combination and achieve great success in the years ahead.
We’ll be in touch again soon,