Vaughn Beals

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Vaughn L. Beals, Jr.
BornJanuary 2, 1928[1] [2]
DiedAugust 19, 2018(2018-08-19) (aged 90)[2]
Known forPresident, Harley-Davidson
AwardsAutomotive Hall of Fame distinguished service citation[3]
Motorcycle Hall of Fame (2008)[4]

Vaughn L. Beals, Jr. (January 2, 1928 – August 19, 2018) was an American businessman who was a CEO of Harley-Davidson between 1981 and 1989, and chairman from 1981 to 1996.[4] He was inducted to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2008.[4][5]

Early life and education[edit]

An only child, Beals was born and raised in the Boston area. Although neither of his parents finished high school, Beals was a standout student and his high school guidance counselor encouraged him to apply to Massachusetts Institute of Technology instead of his first choice, Northeastern University. Beals earned bachelor's aeronautical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[1][6] After his earning his degree, he worked for Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo, New York where he met and married his wife, Eleanore Woods. Subsequently, he returned to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned his master's degree in aeronautics.[5]

Beals then worked at North American Aviation and Cummins as engineer and executive.[7] He was CEO, chairman, and president of Formac (Washington Iron Works) in Seattle, a company that made large engines and logging equipment.[6] In 1975, Beals was recruited by the conglomerate American Machine and Foundry (AMF), where he was hired to oversee engineering of new products for Harley-Davidson.[5]

Harley-Davidson buyout and leadership[edit]

At the time Beals was hired, Harley-Davidson was struggling with quality control issues and sales of its motorcycles had decreased significantly, losing market share mostly to Japanese imports. Partly because AMF was unwilling to invest in the company, in 1981, Beals and 12 other investors, including Willie G. Davidson, initiated a highly leveraged $80 million buy out of Harley-Davidson that took the company private at the equivalent of 25 cents per share.[5] After touring several Japanese motorcycle plants, Beals concluded that Harley-Davidson's problems were not foreign imports, but rather the company's own mismanagement. As a result, he initiated the use of just-in-time delivery and other manufacturing reforms, after seeing these practices in use at the Honda Marysville Motorcycle Plant in Ohio.[8] Beals also directed a number of changes in the company's motorcycles designed to make them more comfortable to ride and operate. Beals also directed creation of Harley Owners Group in 1983, today the world's largest factory-sponsored motorcycle club.[5][9]

Following the successful buyout and turn-around of Harley-Davidson, Beals purchased the Holiday Rambler company, a manufacturer of recreational vehicles. The acquisition did not prove profitable, and Beals eventually sold the company for $50 million in 1996.[5]

Retirement and later life[edit]

After his retirement from Harley-Davidson, Beals and his wife Eleanore Woods Beals, an alumna, established the Woods-Beals endowed chair at Buffalo State College in 2004. It was the institution's first endowed chair.[10][11]

Beals died at the age of 90 in Gig Harbor, Washington where he and his wife spent their summers. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife of 67 years, their two daughters, five grandchildren and five great grandchildren.[5]


  1. ^ a b c "Vaughn Beals, Jr.", Great American Business Leaders of the 20th Century, Harvard Business School, retrieved 2013-03-18
  2. ^ a b c Obituary for Vaughn LeRoy Beals Jr., Haven of Rest, retrieved 2018-08-23
  3. ^ "Awards — Distinguished Service Citation". Automotive Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2012-11-22. Retrieved 2013-03-17.
  4. ^ a b c Vaughn Beals at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Hagerty, James R. (September 1, 2018). "Harley-Davidson CEO Made a Startling Discovery: 'The Problem Was Us'". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  6. ^ Greg Field (2002). "Leader of the Pack: Vaughn Beals". In Darwin Holmstrom (ed.). The Harley-Davidson Century. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing. ISBN 0-7603-1155-2.
  7. ^ Kotha, S. & Dutton, J. Transformation at Harley-Davidson. In Strategic Management: An Integrated Approach by C. Hill & G. Jones, Fourth Edition, Houghton-Mifflin 1997. Also reprinted in Managing Organizations and People: Cases in Management Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management, by Schuler, R. & Buller, P. South-Western Publishers, Spring 1999.
  8. ^ Matthew Ragas; Bolivar Bueno (2002). The Power of Cult Branding: How 9 Magnetic Brands Turned Customers Into Loyal Followers (and Yours Can Too!). Prima Venture. ISBN 0761536949.
  9. ^ Woods-Beals Endowed Chair, Buffalo State Center for Excellence in Rural and Urban Education, retrieved 2013-03-18
  10. ^ Woods-Beals Endowed Chair for Excellence in Urban and Rural Education, Buffalo State College, retrieved 2013-03-18

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