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The Seats of Success: How Harley-Davidson Powered Itself to the Top

Harley-Davidson fans are known for the overt pride they take in their machines. A T-shirt that one devotee made reads: “Put your ass on some class.” Whether that motto has been officially sanctioned by the company or not, that is exactly what hundreds of thousands of bike riders around the world have done. With more than 33 models of touring and custom Harleys, which are sold by over 1,300 dealers, Harley-Davidson remains the only major American manufacturer of motorcycles, and dominates sales of the more heavyweight bikes. How did four young boys from Milwaukee turn their shed-bound experiments into a thriving enterprise and a cultural icon of America?

Innovation: If there is anything the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. is known for above all else, it is the never-ending stream of innovative designs and manufacturing techniques of its bikes that have surfaced over the decades. From the sidecar to the front pedal brake, the company prioritized the process of innovation. People who bought a Harley knew they were buying something on the heels of the future.

Exhibition: Harley and the Davidson brothers began racing motorcycles because they loved being atop their own creations and proving that they were the best. But, in doing so, the savvy entrepreneurs also saw the opportunity to raise their visibility and build a solid and reliable corporate reputation.

Dedication: If any of the children of Harley or the Davidson brothers wanted to see their fathers, they would have to pay a visit to the company’s factory. With the exception of Christmas, even birthdays and other holidays were spent devoted to their business. The four founders established a habit of hard work that became ingrained within the corporate culture.

Passion: Even if their company had not achieved the success that it did in their own lifetimes, there is little doubt that its four founders would have nevertheless devoted themselves to their bikes. Harley and the Davidson’s loved what they did and it was for that reason that they wanted their company to not only succeed, but also to be the best it could be.

Branding: The Harley-Davidson logo is almost instantly recognizable even to non-motorcycle aficionados. Through early attempts to create a loyal customer base, such as with The Enthusiast magazine, to the later development of the Harley Owners Group fan club, the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. has been one of the most successful American companies in history when it comes to having established an effective brand image.

The Harley-Davidson story is not just a story of success in the early part of the century. With 2005 annual growth standing at 6.6 percent, and income growth at 7.8 percent, the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. remains an industry leader. Hundreds of thousands of motorcycle fans continue to embody the passion for their machines as once did William Harley and the Davidson brothers. Today, the company is as much known for its bikes as it is for the loyal cyclists that sit atop them, which speaks volumes to the legacy that the four original Harley-Davidson entrepreneurs left behind them.

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