People and Technology Retool a Company

As CEO of Harley-Davidson until 1997, Teerlink directed the company in one of the greatest comeback stories of all times – and he did it by focusing on people, leadership, and technology.
At an event hosted by SAP, also known for its continuing role in supporting business turnarounds, Teerlink presented his business philosophy to over 130 executives at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, TX.
Teerlink related Harley-Davidson’s meteoric fall and subsequent rise. “Most successful companies eventually have a crisis,” Teerlink stated, describing what he called Harley-Davidson’s crisis of success. “When we became very successful, we stopped caring about our customers and our employees.” The result? “Harley-Davidson’s market share went from 70% to 13% because of poor quality.”
Quoting frequently from his very successful book entitled More Than a Motorcycle, Teerlink drove home the importance of a company’s employees working as a team. And one important way to accomplish this is to have a business management system that gives each department and each employee a means to share information.
The information that is shared must be reliable and up-to-date. As Teerlink stated, “If you do not have real-time information that you can rely on, you cannot make informed business decisions.” Although he stressed that information is critical to the success of all companies, large and small, Teerlink concluded that, “…having up-to-date information may even be more important for smaller sized businesses.”
Teerlink believes that “The only sustainable competitive advantage a company has is its people.” And it’s management’s job to provide its employees with the tools they need to make day-to-day as well as strategic decisions. A business management system that delivers reliable and up-to-date information is such a tool.
On its journey back to the top, Harley-Davidson implemented business management systems that would actively support its guiding principles:

  • Know our business
  • Know our customers
  • Pay attention to detail

Following Teerlink’s presentation, Gary Fromer, senior vice president with SAP’s small and midsize business (SMB) group, described SAP’s product offerings for the under $200 million marketplace. He stressed that SAP’s longevity (over 30 years) in the ERP market, its financial stability, its profitability, and its network of business partners make it the ideal choice for small and midsize businesses who want to gain the advantages outlined by Teerlink.
He noted that SAP has always been identified as a driver in business improvement processes, quoting from the Colgate-Palmolive 2002 financial report that highlighted SAP’s contribution to its increase in gross margins from 47% to 54%. Fromer emphasized SAP’s commitment to smaller companies through its business management package geared for SMBs, SAP Business One.
Gadi Shamia, vice president of SAP Business One, presented an informative and compelling product demonstration. He demonstrated how a business could be better managed with company-wide controls that prevent mistakes from happening. Shamia noted that, “We have all become very good fireman. SAP Business One helps us become better fire inspectors so that fires never happen in the first place.” The embedded sales force automation tools and powerful reporting capabilities of SAP Business One impressed participants.

At the conclusion of the formal presentations, participants moved to the welcome hall for product demonstrations by the Dallas-based SAP Business One partners and event co-sponsors, GEMS ( and ERG ( The informative evening ended with Teerlink signing books for each attendee.

Brenda Mackay
Brenda Mackay