One of the most in-demand speakers and communications consultants in America, Ken Schmidt has lived a rich and extraordinary life.
As the former director of communications for Harley-Davidson Motor Company, he played an active role in one of the most celebrated turnarounds in corporate history - and got paid to ride motorcycles. He is widely known and respected as one of the business world’s most outspoken and provocative thought leaders and has partnered with many of the world’s most successful brands.
The longtime motorcycle enthusiast’s formal association with Harley-Davidson began in 1985. As a specialist in corporate positioning and media relations, he was asked to work with the then-struggling Harley-Davidson to help restore the company’s image and create demand for its motorcycles. Within a few short years, Harley-Davidson became one of the most visible and frequently reported-on companies in the world, while sales of its motorcycles rocketed upward.
In 1990, Schmidt became director of Harley-Davidson’s corporate and financial communications, and served as its primary spokesperson to the media and the financial communities. He appeared numerous times on network news programs and was frequently called upon by business media to share his insights on non-traditional communications, customer attraction and brand-building. Speaking engagements around the world soon followed.
In 1997, Schmidt left Harley-Davidson to take an ownership position with a highly successful Chicago-based marketing firm, VSA Partners. In addition to Harley-Davidson, VSA serves a virtual who’s who of the world’s best-known brands. In July 1999, he sold his portion of VSA to start his own business, Ken Schmidt Company, and slow down the pace of his life.
Now, Schmidt is a frequent speaker to business groups and academic communities throughout the world. Few speakers generate more positive word-of-mouth and referrals. “I love to startle people by exposing them to proven ideas and concepts they’ve never imagined,” he said, “so that their minds and hearts are in perfect synch. Because that’s when real learning happens.” Whether he’s talking about how to understand and leverage basic needs to improve competitiveness, or how to build an entirely new corporate culture or how to reach out to new customers in completely untraditional ways, Schmidt never follows a predictable course.
Today, Schmidt happily states that he is “semi-retired,” which allows him to pursue his other passions. He calls working with the grandson of one of Harley-Davidson’s founders to create 100 Years of Harley-Davidson, the best-selling motor sports book of all time, one of the greatest highs in his life. After all he has accomplished, his philosophy of life and business hasn’t changed: “Never do what’s expected, make yourself as noticeably different as possible, and have a lot more fun than you’re supposed to.”