In January I spoke at the Annual Harley-Davidson Dealer Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, where, at dinner one evening, I met Pablo Lee. I had been told that Pablo owns and operates HDK (Harley-Davidson Korea,) and that it is one of the most successful Harley dealerships in the world.
In the gym the next morning, Pablo happened to be on the stationary bike next to mine. How often do you get to chat with someone of this caliber? So between pants and puffs, I ask him what he considered to be the key to his success.
In a polite but firm manner, Pablo corrected me, saying that he does not consider himself or his business as “successful.” He said that when you start thinking of yourself as “successful,” you stop being successful.
“Huh?” I said.
He went on to explain that success, like happiness and enlightenment, is a journey one does not achieve, but something one must continually pursue.
Well, this was all sounding a little too mystical for my limited spiritual capabilities to grasp, so I rephrased the question, asking him what secrets he might share that would help others move through this journey as effectively as he has.
I expected him to refer to his business acumen, or his willingness to balance risk with caution in making strategic decisions, or perhaps, something about hard work, sacrifice, and a bit of luck. But he simply replied that he makes it his business to make people happy.
It sounded a little weird, but his dealership is financially successful by any measure, and his employee turn-over is almost zero, so I figured that he must be doing something right.
Pablo went on to explain that all people want to be happy – that we spend most of our time, energy, thoughts and actions pursuing happiness. He said that HDK’s vision is to be a leader in pursuing the happiness of the four major stakeholders in the motorcycle industry:
* Harley-Davidson Motor Company (his supplier)
* Korean society
I asked him how he does this, and here’s what he said:
Happy Customers: “We provide our customers with nice motorcycles and an experience they will never forget,” Pablo said. “Also, we always treat our customers with a ‘family-minded’ approach. In other words, the staff is taught that their relationships with their customers is like a brotherhood. That each employee should value each customer as if he or she was a sibling.” According to Pablo, given the strong emphasis on family relationships in Korean culture, doing business this way is essential.
Happy Employees: Pablo pointed out that treating his staff well is essential because they are the ones who contribute the most to making his customers happy. To do this, he generously offers them:
- Higher pay: Pablo pays his staff an average 10% more than they could earn working in similar jobs for other motorcycle companies or car dealerships.
- Company trips – based on the annual performance of the company: This year he took all his staff to Bali for a 7 day stay at Club Med. Pablo says that almost all his employees are young, so this was a hugely popular reward. I noticed that he had a cadre of ten or more staff with him, attending the meeting in San Antonio.
- Blueprints for their prosperous future – Every staff member understands that HDK is the best place to learn his or her skill and to grow into competent professionals because HDK is simply the best place to work in the Korean motorcycle industry. I guess it’s like playing for a championship sports team. When you play with the best, you can’t help but become better.
- Empowerment: Every staff person is trained and empowered to decide and do his or her work independently. They are encouraged to see themselves not as ‘machines’ but as valued souls who are important units that make the HDK organization perfect.
At this point, Pablo emphasized that he tries to make his staff happy not only by compensating with tangible resources like good salary and company trips, but (more focused) by having them feel as if they are owners of the company – giving them empowerment and instilling them with personal vision for their own success. For example, his hope is that some day, staff members who chose to will become dealer principals (owners of their own Harley-Davidson dealerships.) Sometimes, according to Pablo, these kinds of intangible values are more important than good pay. He pointed out that this is part of the oriental values that come from Korean culture.
Pablo also said that employees want a sense of belonging. He makes this a reality by:
- Asking employees’ for ideas on how to improve the company. He then implements the ideas that look worthwhile, while publicly recognizing all who contribute.
- Sponsoring many clubs such as a baseball club and mountain bike club. These clubs offer staff the opportunity to build special friendships with others, develop better communications, and create a more pleasant atmosphere in the workplace.
- Spending time out on the floor, interacting with, and listening to his employees. Pablo says that everyone wants to be heard and recognized for his or her contributions to the team. He makes sure he’s around to do that in spades.
According to Pablo, when employees have satisfactory pay and welfare, along with a clear blueprint of their future, pride, and humanity…what else do they need?
Happy Harley-Davidson: Pablo emphasized that HDK not only focuses on selling motorcycles but also on trying to deliver the Harley-Davidson brand properly in Korea. “If we fail to keep the value of the Harley-Davidson brand, and succeeded in sales (which is impossible, I think), Harley-Davidson Motor Company would be ‘glad’ but not ‘happy’. We believe Harley-Davidson is ‘happy’ now because HDK has succeeded in both sales and brand management.”
Happy Korean society: “The idea of a ‘motorcycle lifestyle’ was completely foreign in the Korean market,” Pablo said.” “Korean riders used motorcycles just to get around, not to have fun experiences. HDK opened in 1999, and we immediately began working to translate the Harley-Davidson lifestyle in a way that was meaningful to the Korean culture. To do this, HDK and the Korean chapter of H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) organized fund raising events for local orphanages and other charities. Gradually, Korean society started considering motorcycling as a wonderful leisure activity and hostile eyes on motorcycles began to disappear.”
Pablo pointed out that these community involvement activities also make staff and customers happy because they have chances to participate with the dealership and the H.O.G chapter to contribute to Korean society.
The bottom line of all this is that Pablo makes the four major stakeholders of his business happy, and that translates into more customers riding Harley-Davidsons. And that makes Pablo happy.