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August 3, 2000

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - More Than a Motorcycle

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 5:46 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

More Than a Motorcycle: The Leadership Journey at Harley-Davidson
by Rich Teerlink and Lee Ozley, Harvard Business School Press, 270 Pages, $24.95 Hardcover, August 2000, ISBN 0875849504
During the past 18 years, I have sat in on many presentations from some very high-level consultants, such as Tom Peters and Ken Blanchard. During the obligatory Q&A sessions, the following statement is invariably made: "Those ideas sound great, butwe are a union shop," or "butwe have shareholders to think about," or "butwe can't take three years to implement something." More Than a Motorcycle, and the story of Harley-Davidsons organizational changes, ultimately instruct us to ignore the 'buts' and continue striving to improve our organizations.
Rich Teerlink joined Harley in 1981, was President and CEO from 1988 until 1997, and was Chairman from 1996 until March of 1999. Lee Ozley is an organizational consultant who worked with Rich from 1987 until 1999. This book is about the changes that took place inside Harley from 1981 (when Harley's US market share was at a desperate 15.2% and its units shipped a meager 32,400) until 1999 (when Harley's market share rose to 49.5% with 177,187 units shipped).
This book is an extremely well-written account of the journey Harley went through going from a typical "command and control" organization to a "open, participative learning organization." The book details the struggles in the early years when employees were frustrated over the fact that Rich eliminated the hierarchy and wouldnt instruct them about what he wanted. Each year, Harley held an "Awareness Expansion Session" event where employees met off-site and were presented with new ideas. The real turning point for employee acclimatization happened after the fourth (!) year, when Harley assigned five topic areas to employees and asked them to make the presentations for each topic. Finally, the employees started to understand that this transition was not going to be driven by management or by consultants. For an added dimension, direct quotes from Lee and Rich, commenting on the experience from their current perspectives, are interspersed throughout the book.
This book is perfect for the leader who wants to change the structure of their organization, but has difficulty seeing the forest for the trees. It also appeals to the Harley-fanatics out there who want to know the inner-workings of their favorite brand. Ultimately, the story of Harley proves that the end-result is very much worth the intermediate struggle.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.