By Northwest Arkansas Business Journal Staff
8/6/2009 4:15:00 PM
ROGERS – Clyde Fessler rumbled into the Hammons Center Grand Ballroom on a $40,000 custom Harley Softtail motorcycle created by Pigtrail Harley Davidson in Rogers.
The keynote speaker today at the Northwest Arkansas Business Conference & Expo, Fessler revved up the capacity crowd with the hard tale of his company’s own difficult turnaround. He spent 25 years with The Harley Davidson Motor Co. (NYSE: HOG) before retiring as its vice-president of business development.
He said the conference’s theme of “Don’t Just Survive – Thrive” fits perfectly with the story of Harley’s corporate rebound.
“Back in the 1980s, we were on the verge of bankruptcy,” Fessler said. “In fact, the press releases were even written and ready to go out. But we wound up realizing if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re going to get what you’ve always got.
“That’s just not good enough when economic times are tough.”
The event, being presented by the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal and the Arkansas World Trade Center, concludes with a special “Business After Hours” from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Admission to the expo and the after-hours event is free with a business card. The Rogers Chamber is the largest in Arkansas with more than 2,100 members and 4,300 representatives.
Shares of Harley closed up 53 cents on the day at $23.01.
Fessler said Harley changed everything it did from the manufacturing floor up. By focusing on quality, he said, Harley drove a wedge between itself and the competition.
“We weren’t chasing them anymore,” Fessler said. “We invested heavily in the most important ingredient for business success, and that’s people. People are the difference between winning and losing, success and failure, because people bring the passion to the business.
“And passion is what life is all about.”
Fessler noted that he was impressed with both the turnout and diversity of businesses at today’s conference and expo. He said “the variety of businesses here represent what America is all about.”
Sam’s Club and Your Community Phone Book are the presenting sponsors of the conference. Cherokee Casino is presenting the expo.
“I have been totally amazed about this undiscovered, beautiful region of the United States,” Fessler said. “Most people don’t know what’s here. The quality of the people and business culture is very refreshing after dealing with the likes of the people east of the Hudson River.”
Fessler also referenced the luncheon speech given today by Cindy Davis, the executive vice president of membership, marketing and e-commerce at Sam’s Club in Bentonville.
“Cindy made some smart points about now being the time to invest in business with innovation and new ideas,” Fessler said. “When the economy turns around, you’ll be ready to expand and grow and be ahead of the curve. Harley’s success, at least in part, is due to our communication and focus on existing customers. Making them happy provides for the best sales force you can ever create.”
Fessler is expected to be on stage until 5 p.m. when Business After Hours will get into full swing.
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