Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Harley-Davidson Company Employee-Management Forum in York, Pennsylvania

May 06, 1987

The President. I have to tell you, this has been very exciting to see all of this. And at the same time, I had a great feeling of familiarity, because as I was telling you earlier, during my 8 years on a television program called "The GE Theater," I would spend about 10 or 12 weeks every year visiting GE plants. And I met 250,000 employees in those years, and I think it was 139 plants in 39 States. And I came to the conclusion then if the people who are the customers out there could see what goes into the products they take for granted, they'd be deeply moved and very excited.

I want to thank you for this excellent presentation. And when I hear all this talk about how unbeatable some foreign competitors are, I am reminded of a little incident in World War II. At my age, I'm always being reminded of things like this. [Laughter] It was General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz, and during one of the campaigns in the South Pacific, they were changing ships and the waves overturned the small boat they were in. And Admiral Nimitz called out to General MacArthur for help, and the General finally got to him and held him above water, so he could breathe, until they were finally rescued. And when it was all over, the Admiral said, "Doug," he said, "Please, don't ever tell my men I can't swim." And Doug said, "I won't tell them that you can't swim if you won't tell them I can't walk on water." [Laughter]

But I've heard a lot about this comeback before coming here today. But what's impressed me most was not any one thing-not changes in financing or marketing or in the product or the way it's made, but something much bigger. And it's been very evident here in what I've been hearing right now: that Harley-Davidson is moving forward because Harley-Davidson has become a team. You're working together; there's literally a hotline between the factory floor and the top office; and ideas are coming from every part of the company. You work in small teams to figure out how to do things better. And this isn't a top-down company; this is a company in which everyone is standing shoulder to shoulder on the front line—everyone. It didn't take huge, new investments, as you've pointed out here today, in exotic technologies to put Harley-Davidson back on top; it just took a huge, new investment of faith in each other.

You know, listening here, I can't help but think that there's something familiar about the source of your success. It sounds a lot like what was at the bottom of another success story. Now, we all know that story, but maybe sometimes we get a little indifferent and let it slip from our minds. It concerns people from every corner of the Earth. They had a little more drive, and they dreamed a little more than others around them, and they had that little extra ounce of courage to leave everything behind and make a long, difficult journey across the ocean to a new continent, a new world, and where they built a new nation called America. And the strength that comes when free men and women join together and work for a common purpose—it's a story as old as our great nation and as young as the reborn Harley-Davidson.

And, yes, it's the key to America's success in the competitive world of the 21st century. For the last few months, I've been talking about how we've got to begin preparing for the 21st century. I've talked about quality in education, about training for the jobs of the future, and about how America will continue to grow. The economy of the 21st century will be an international economy where American companies like Harley will compete on every continent and in every country.

Now, some want to hide from that world, not to compete, just to throw up walls and protection and hide. But if we really look back, America has never been afraid of a challenge. We've always been ready to compete and always been ready to win. And I think you have proven, and it's confirmed, all that I had heard before I got here, and that is that you are ready still to compete, to not ask for quarter, and to go forward.

And I just thank you for all you've done. I was president of my own union one time. [Laughter] God bless you. This is what it's all about, and you've shown it. And I hope that this is a seed that spreads throughout American industry.
Moderator. We're pleased to have you.

The President. Well, pleased to be here.

Reporter. Mr. President, could we ask a certain—for a comment on the passing of your old friend, Bill Casey?

The President. Well, I have issued a statement that you all have, and there's no question about our sorrow about that. We've lost a very devoted friend and great public servant.

Q. [Inaudible]—Mr. Secord is saying that Mr. Casey was involved in the contras.

The President. I'm not going to comment on that.

Q. [Inaudible]—arms for hostages deal, Mr. President? If he thought so, how come the White House didn't know?

The President. I'm not going to answer, Bill [Bill Plante, CBS News].

Note: The President spoke at 2:09 p.m. in the cafeteria at the Harley-Davidson plant.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Harley-Davidson Company Employee-Management Forum in York, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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