01 Mar 2019
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In My Humble Opinion: Easy Rider

Revving up at Harley-Davidson
by Julia Hanna

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Photo by Sara Stathas

Before he launched Harley-Davidson in India, Anoop Prakash (MBA 2001) held business development roles in technology and was a consultant at McKinsey. He also had experience in the public sector and in the US Marine Corps. But he hadn’t spent much time on a motorcycle.

No matter. The Minnesota native knew an icon—and a challenge—when he saw one. In 2009 he stepped into the role of managing director, Harley-Davidson India. Entering the Indian market had plenty of challenges related to tariffs, accessibility, and brand perception, and also required a focus on local product requirements, with special attention paid to the look and feel of small details such as the “sari guard”—a regulatory requirement that ensures the long, flowing garment doesn’t get entangled in the bike’s rear wheel. “Bringing Harley-Davidson to India was a pure opportunity to build a brand from its core essence and authentically adapt it to the local market,” says Prakash. “Building up our team, dealers, and manufacturing capabilities from a clean sheet of paper was really rewarding.”

After India, Prakash served in the same role in Canada and is now settled at Harley-Davidson headquarters in Milwaukee as director of US retail development. “The challenge with retail is delivering a consistent experience in every channel,” he says. “It’s largely about alignment between ourselves and our dealer network so that we can work together and deliver on the commitment we are making to the customer—whose expectations are always evolving.”

 

Retail 101: “One of my longest-held jobs as a teenager was working in the menswear department at the local Sears. We all wore shirts and ties and knew our customers by name. Tough to watch it close, and a great reminder of the need to stay close to the customer and evolve.”

Semper Fi: “I did ROTC in college and was an active-duty Marine for four years. I had a strong urge to serve my country, given the opportunities my parents had when they emigrated here from India.”

Dad, what’s a HOG? “When I was 10 years old, my grandfather visited us from India. He really wanted to see Mount Rushmore, so we packed up and drove to South Dakota. Of course, my parents didn’t know that was the week of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.”

Break on through: “We launched the Street 750 motorcycle in India to respond to customer research from India and other emerging markets, which answered the question, What would a Harley look like if it was made for this environment? We now export it from India to Europe and the rest of Asia.”

“American company culture...has the ability to unlock a higher level of performance in a climate where employees are used to being in a very rigid, top-down structure.”

“American company culture...has the ability to unlock a higher level of performance in a climate where employees are used to being in a very rigid, top-down structure.”

Competitive advantage: “American company culture—which I would generally characterize as open, transparent, and empowering—has the ability to unlock a higher level of performance in a climate where employees are used to being in a very rigid, top-down structure.”

His bike: The H-D Street Glide Special. “It’s a great bike for touring long distances, but it’s also easy to use in the city. It has a second seat that’s very comfortable for my wife or daughters, and an incredible sound system.”

Local escape: “I love to ride north, up the coast of Lake Michigan. You eventually run into an area called Door County with some pretty little towns along the way. It’s a bit like Cape Cod.”

Coming soon: The LiveWire, H-D’s first electric motorcycle, launching in August. “Riding an electric motorcycle is an exhilarating experience, as it provides instant torque. It also has a jet engine sound that changes with acceleration. Moving away from a clutch to twist-and-go control is a game-changer.”

Recommended reading: Winning in Emerging Markets by HBS professors Tarun Khanna and Krishna Palepu. “It was an invaluable reference as we built our presence in India, especially as we entered a more mature stage in the later years I was there.”

Harley-Davidson in three words: “Liberating, aspirational, transformative.”

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2001, Section C

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