Business Leaders: Harley-Davidson’s Keith Wandell

Name: Keith WandellAge: 62Company: Harley Davidson Inc.Position: Chairman of the Board, president and CEOPrevious role: President and chief operating officer of Johnson Controls Inc.Education: BS from Ohio University (1972), MBA from the University of Dayton (1979)Quote: "I think we will all agree that things are much different -- a different economy, different technologies and different customer expectations."

Keith Wandell became president and CEO of Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG), the revered motorcycle manufacturer, after consumers decreased spending in the wake of the late 2000s financial tumult. During his first year steering the company, he decreased spending, sending consternation through the company's ranks.

Gone was the unbridled opportunity of a proverbial open road. If Wandell wanted to keep his company relevant and prosperous, he needed to take a wrench to his Harley and remove (or improve) the ineffectual parts.

The question now is will his actions prepare the American icon to cruise confidently into the future?

Wandell cut costs and jobs to ensure that his organization didn't go the way of General Motors (NYSE:GM) -- a modus operandi he's maintained to this day. In an interview with the Journal Sentinel he said, "We had too many dealerships, there was too much inventory and we had driven down the residual value of our products. Doesn't all of that sound familiar?"

Before heading Harley Davidson, Wandell gained a wealth of experience in motorcycle manufacturing and automotive supply industries. He made a name for himself with energy optimization company Johnson Controls, which is where he spent most of his career. He was corporate vice president of the organization from 1997 until 2005, and from 1998 to 2003, he was president of the power solutions business. Afterward, he moved within the company to automotive experience, where he served as president of that business unit until 2006.

He briefly served as executive vice president of Johnson Controls, before becoming president and COO, positions he held from 2006 to 2009. During this time he had the unfortunate task of keeping costs low and dealing with Wall Street and the government. He testified to Congress on behalf of the Detroit auto industry for federal loans. This demonstrated that he was willing to put himself out there and make difficult, controversial decisions. This is exactly the kind of leader Harley-Davidson was seeking.

He became president and CEO in May 2009. His tenure thus far is noted for massive cuts, much to the chagrin of many Harley-Davidson employees. The company sold its European sport bike subsidiary MV Agusta. They cut their York, Pennsylvania, operations in half. He also oversaw the elimination of the Buel line of performance motorcycles (cutting 180 jobs) and the Buell Motorcycle plant closing. He emphasized that difficult decisions, such as ending Buell, were not his sole actions: "We had a fully vetted process where all the executive leadership certainly was part of that process."

Wandell is currently leading his company through significant restructuring, which has continued to stir discontent among their workers. When Harley-Davison considered moving its production outside Wisconsin, unions representing the company's production workers negotiated new contracts. These new contracts reduced the full-time unionized hourly work force in its Milwaukee-based facilities to around 700 employees. Wandell admitted to The Business Journal that there has been a lot of "angst and nervousness because it's change."

When Wandell was appointed chairman of the board of directors earlier this year, his predecessor Barry K. Allen said, "Keith is a transcendent leader who has done an outstanding job of guiding Harley-Davidson in a period of extraordinary challenge and transformation."

According to the Form 14A proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, his total 2011 compensation was $7.2 million. This was comprised of his $975,037 salary, $365,639 bonus, $1.5 million in stock awards, $1.7 million in option awards, $2.4 million in non-equity incentive plan compensation and $175,273 in other compensation.

He is director of Dana Holding Corporation and Constellation Brands Inc.