On Leadership:
Harley-Davidson Plant Manager and
Union Leaders Share their Experience

LIVELYHOOD: Talk about the level of control that the workers have in their jobs.

KARL EBERLE: Let me give you an example that I think fits what you just asked. We started a second shift in our fabrication area and there's not one management person on second shift. The employees rose to the challenge. They created their own score cards, they created their own internal measurements and now they've said, "Wait a minute. We don't want any management people on second shift," so they've resisted any discussion we've even had about it. They've really pushed back and said, "If you're really interested in controlling cost then you measure us by our score cards and we'll prove to you we don't need anybody."

TED HARRIS: You gotta remember that the road really hasn't been paved but we're doing it; we're building the road, and paving it and driving on it all at the same time so like what Karl was saying, if the indicators are doing things right even though it seems extremely different -- that's what makes HPWO so great is that you have the ability to have the employees to take this as their business, to operate it to lower costs. If they're doing that correctly, and if all the work's getting done on time, who knows what it's supposed to look like? We're building it as we go.

LIVELYHOOD: What are some difficulties you face?

MARSHALL WALLMARK: The difficulties I [face] right now is that I would think that about 70, 75% of the work force out there has never been in a union shop. So, they don't know exactly what a union's all about. Educating these people -- on what [a] union's about, what this partnership's about, what the company's all about -- is going to take some time.

LIVELYHOOD: What's your biggest challenge?

HARRIS: Well, to bring several new people into the Harley culture, and to help them relieve themselves of the old baggage, and to get acclimated to the new way of thinking. To understand what that commitment means when they walk through those doors. It's not just a fad--It's our culture. We're living it. We're breathing it. Day in and day out.

LIVELYHOOD: How would you define that?

EBERLE: Simply put, what we're asking our employees to do, instead of work, to do the day to day task to build a motorcycle, we're asking them to run the factory. And that requires a tremendous amount of educational training. And that's the biggest challenge I believe that we have had, and we'll continue to have, is to give our employees the experience and the background to enable them to make decisions on how to run the business.

HARRIS: We have people that have quit higher paying jobs to come to work for Harley-Davidson. Not just for the name, not just for building a motorcycle, but for the idea of being able to run the business. They've heard about it. They come in. They've toured the plant, and they said, "Yes. This is a place that I want to work. This is the atmosphere. This is the culture I want to experience." And I think that's a tremendous success story in itself.

LIVELYHOOD: Would it be easier sometimes to just go back to the old style?

EBERLE: To throw a bunch of supervisors out there, we would have an immediate impact. [laughter] I'm not sure if it's negative or positive, but there'd be an impact. There'd be a sense of immediate control. But I know that that's not going to produce the results long term that we need. We would destroy the long term culture of this factory and the long term benefits.

WALLMARK: It's been a blast. I don't look forward to going back to any kind of other traditional shop. I will retire here, as an employee, and I hope to heck this place stays an HPWO shop from here on out.

LIVELYHOOD: Monetarily, is it working as a business?

EBERLE: We had defined early in the construction of the factory, "What did we have to achieve financially to call it a success?" We are at least at that level, if not above that. As we mature as a factory, I have no question that we'll surpass the goals. There's no way the three of us can run this factory. It's got to be run by the individual groups. And that's an important perspective. We've established relationships with employees, and got personal commitment from those employees. And that's why you see employees doing things beyond what you normally expect them to do. And I believe that's the key to the success of this whole thing. And that'll be the key to our future.

WALLMARK: I think manufacturing out here in the world is going to have to go to something similar to what we're doing. It may not be the same thing. It has a different twist to it, but uh when we end up closing plants down and moving stuff to Mexico or overseas, that doesn't only hurt the union side, it also hurts the salary side, too, because there's not a plant there ain't anybody going to be working. So, what Kansas City and Harley-Davidson is doing, or as a company in a whole, I think you'll see this take off all across the world.

What do you think. about the Global Economy? Next»

 


Story Synopsis So You Wanna Be an HPWO Interviews with Workers
Challenges to HPWO On Leadership Learn More About HPWO

Back to "Carpool" homepage