WELL MADE IN AMERICA: Lessons from Harley-Davidson on Being the Best by Peter C. Reid

WELL MADE IN AMERICA: Lessons from Harley-Davidson on Being the Best

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An upbeat appreciation of the stirring comeback mounted by Harley-Davidson in the face of stiff competition from Japanese suppliers of motorcycles, which includes short-take recommendations on analogous recovery strategies available to ailing manufacturers that find themselves in similar straits. Clearly a fan of the company's heavyweight bikes, Reid (editor of AMA International's Managing Worldwide) provides a fast-paced recap of H-D's checkered history. Founded in 1903, the family firm was sold to AMF (a conglomerate that has since left the stage) in 1969. Honda, Kawasaki, and other foreign rivals, however, had been making inroads in domestic outlets long dominated by Harley, whose fortunes failed to improve under the aegis of a bureaucratic parent. Undaunted, 13 top executives negotiated a leveraged buyout in 1981, which gave them possession of H-D's wasting assets and responsibility for upwards of $83 million in debt. How they managed to mobilize their scanty financial, human, and production resources to engineer a dramatic turnaround comprises the heart of Reid's narrative. By the author's account, the new owners prevailed by successfully melding American know-how with the Japanese work ethic--employee involvement, materials-as-needed inventory control, and the like. Despite recurring cash problems, they achieved striking gains in productivity, quality, and market share. Now a prospering enterprise, Harley again bestrides its industry like a colossus and has diversified into the allied field of recreation vehicles. Reid presents the remarkable reversal in the company's fortunes as a can-do case study. While the lessons to be learned are mainly to the point, he soft-pedals the interim tariff relief that gave Harley much-needed room for maneuver at a critical juncture. The author also steers clear of such issues as the number of machines sold to members of outlaw gangs like Hell's Angels. These quibbles apart, a well-told and instructive success story. The text has helpful line drawings and graphics material, plus 50 photographs (not seen).

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1989
Publisher: McGraw-Hill