Vaughn Beals was part of the team of executives who helped to resurrect the Harley-Davidson Motor Company in the 1980s. Hired in 1975 by AMF Harley-Davidson as a vice president and group executive, Beals eventually led the group of managers who purchased the company from AMF in a leveraged buyout. He served as CEO of Harley-Davidson from 1981-1989 and as Chairman from 1981-1996.
A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Beals had previously served as a research engineer for North American Aviation and Cummins Engine Company. Just prior to joining AMF Harley-Davidson, he negotiated the purchase of logging equipment manufacturer Formac International, where he was a minority owner and CEO. This experience would prove important to his career with Harley-Davidson.
In the late 1960’s Harley-Davidson annual motorcycle production was down to 16,000 motorcycles. The company’s board of directors sought capital to build new manufacturing facilities and sold the company to American Machine and Foundry (AMF) in 1969. Production increased, but quality and dealer relations suffered, while competition from Japanese manufacturers increased dramatically.
By the late 1970’s Harley-Davidson faced numerous challenges in the market. But the company’s management and employees still believed in the brand. In June 1981, a group of 13 managers led by Beals purchased the company from AMF. Beals was named as Harley-Davidson’s CEO, and the new ownership group immediately focused on improving quality and expanding the product line. Beals’ management style and credibility also helped to garner the support of the dealer network.
By 1983 the company was profitable but continued to struggle until its public offering in 1986. Since then, Harley-Davidson has established itself worldwide as an iconic and uniquely American brand, selling hundreds of thousands of motorcycles a year from a lineup of 31 models.
Beals continued as Harley-Davison CEO until 1989, and as Chairman until 1996. He has been the Chairman Emeritus since his retirement in 1996. He has also received the Distinguished Service Citation from the Automotive Hall of Fame.