Harley-Davidson Inc. celebrated its 100th birthday as an American
manufacturer last year. Though the iconoclastic company borrowed heavily from
Japanese manufacturers during its “survival” period during the 1980s, it has no
plans to move its manufacturing offshore.
“There should be no doubt in your mind, nor is there in my mind, that we will
continue to manufacture Harley-Davidsons in the good old U.S.A.,” says keynoter
Jeff Bleustein, chairman and CEO of the Milwaukee, WI, motorcycle
Bleustein was one of the managers who rescued Harley in the 1980s when AMF
planned to milk it as a cash cow. He and others staged one of the country’s
largest leveraged buyouts in the nation at that time, borrowing $80 million to
finance an $81 million buyout. That recollection brought laughter from a
standing room only crowd, as did with many others in a colorful Tuesday morning
He also helped take the company public in 1986, which began the era when
Harley forged close relationships with its unions. That’s also been a period of
Harley’s greatest success, underscoring the benefits of labor and management
Empowerment of employees is a hallmark of Harley’s philosophy. That was
evidenced by a fairly recent success in the factory. Painting pinstripes has
always been a challenge for the company, one that has been examined by teams for
more than a decade, Bleustein says.
“We turned some of our hourly workers loose on this, people whose highest
educational level was a high school diploma. Within six months they had a
solution for pinstriping,” he says.
Though Harley’s stock price, sales and profits are all close to all-time
highs, he notes that the company can’t rest on its laurels. “We must not become
complacent, but must work hard to stay ahead of our competition,” he says.
“There should be no doubt in your mind,
nor is there in my mind, that we will continue to manufacture
Harley-Davidsons in the good old U.S.A.,” says keynoter Jeff Bleustein,
chairman and CEO of the Milwaukee, WI, motorcycle
Read about Harley
Davidson engineers who won the Design News' Engineering Quality