Five tips from a successful businessman: Keith Wandell

Harley-Davidson executive Keith Wandell shares a few secrets for success.

Story by Eddy Hoyle

Keith E. Wandell retired from the helm of Harley-Davidson, Inc. in 2015 where he served as chairman, president and chief executive officer. Harley-Davidson is the parent company of Harley-Davidson Motor Company and Harley-Davidson Financial Services. Harley-Davidson Motor Company produces motorcycles and a complete line of Harley-Davidson motorcycle parts, accessories, riding gear and apparel. Under his leadership, Harley made significant gains in expanding the customer base in international markets and broadened the company’s focus on new customers in the U.S., particularly young adults, women, African-Americans and Hispanics. Prior to joining Harley-Davidson, Wandell was president and chief operating officer of Johnson Controls, a $40 billion global enterprise. He also serves on two corporate boards: Dana, Inc. and Dover Corporation. He received an undergraduate degree from Ohio State University and an MBA from the University of Dayton. He said he’s “a huge, lifelong, diehard Buckeye fan.”

Former Harley-Davidson executive Keith Wandell is shown with the first LiveWire electric motorcycle.

He comes from working-class roots and grew up in Lima, Ohio. He and his wife, Deborah, retired to Bluffton in 2015 and enjoy their home in Colleton River Club. They have five children and four grandchildren, with another one on the way. Wandell serves on the Board of Colleton River Club and enjoys bass fishing, golf, reading and travel. Here are his tips for success.

Keys to Success

1. God gave us two ears. “God gave us two ears and just one mouth, so we should listen more than we talk. Everybody wants to be heard, and we can agree or disagree, but listening builds relationships and trust to build on,” Wandell said.

2. Never stop learning. “Knowledge is the currency of life. Never stop learning. We have to make time and make a point of learning in any environment. It’s really about an insatiable desire to learn,” Wandell said.

3. Prioritize and focus. “Always have laser focus on a few critical issues that will make a difference. I saw an unbelievable number of extremely intelligent people who didn’t have the ability to focus and would become distracted and, at the end of the day, got nothing done. Determine what the top few things are that will make a difference and focus on those. Prioritize, focus, and learn to say no.”

4. Accountability counts. “Hold yourself and others accountable for results without compromise,” Wandell said. He added that we set objectives and then allow external factors to influence our actions and get distracted. Then we make excuses why goals are not accomplished. He said the book, “Five Temptations of a CEO,” lists popularity over accountability as the No. 1 reason for failure. “We all have an innate need to be liked, and if that gets in the way of accountability, it equals failure,” Wandell explained.

5. Be aware of being fair. “Always be fair to other people, and be aware of how you treat or deal with others,” Wandell said. “If people don’t see you as fair-handed, they may not trust you. It’s all about trust. In my view, if I don’t trust that someone is fair, I can’t respect them. Why would I?”

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