AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee Vaughn L. Beals Jr., former chairman and CEO of Harley-Davidson Inc., died Sunday in Gig Harbor, Wash. He was 90.
Beals was part of the team of executives who helped to resurrect Harley-Davidson 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 bought 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, Beals had served as a research engineer for North American Aviation and Cummins Engine Co.
In the late 1960s, Harley-Davidson annual motorcycle production was down to 16,000 units. The company’s board of directors sought capital to build new manufacturing facilities and sold the company to American Machine and Foundry in 1969. Production increased, but quality and dealer relations suffered, while competition from Japanese manufacturers increased dramatically.
By the late 1970s, 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.
Vaughn Beals was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2008.