WILLOUGHBY: Lisa Wade finds success with Harley-Davidson franchises
by Martin Willoughby
Published: June 21,2013
Sometime in my teenage years, I came across Robert Frost’s moving poem The Road Less Traveled. As I have faced divergent paths in my journey in life, I think of his words, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” We all face these crossroads in life. The challenge is whether to “play it safe” or perhaps step out and take a risk. Most of the entrepreneurs and successful leaders I have interviewed took that road less traveled. It takes courage and commitment but as Frost would say – “It makes all the difference!”
Lisa Wade, owner of the Southern Thunder Harley-Davidson, is one of those courageous entrepreneurs who took the divergent path. In 2006, after 26 years working in the non-profit world, she opened her Harley-Davidson dealership in Southaven, expanded to a second location in Memphis – Graceland Harley-Davidson in 2007 and a third location at Memphis Airport – Blues City Harley-Davidson in 2012. Wade attended West Virginia University and went on to obtain a doctorate of optometry from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis and a master’s in public administration from Memphis State University. She returned to Southern College of Optometry and served for years as a professor and in the administration of the college. She shared, “One of the most difficult decisions of my life was leaving a career I loved and upending my family’s life with the hours required in a retail operation.”
Wade said that her business philosophy is the same that she gives her children. “If you want to succeed in any position, be the first to arrive, be the last to leave, and as long as it is not illegal or immoral, be willing to do whatever it takes to care for your customer/client/patient.” That kind of work ethic is what it takes to succeed in business. I find that too many entrepreneurs today often don’t count the costs of what it will take to truly be successful. She added, “I believe that you do well by doing good.”
I have been to her dealership and seen her passion for service and creating “community” with customers. Because of its strategic location along Interstate 55, she gets visitors from all over the world. Wade’s work ethic and commitment to excellence have paid off as she has significantly grown her business. She has received numerous awards within Harley-Davidson and in her community, but she shared that a real turning point was “being selected by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company as one of the top six dealers in the U.S. based on customer satisfaction scores and business metrics such as growth and profitability.”
Wade has a clear definition of success in her business. “When our customers are enjoying their Harley-Davidson ownership experience, our staff is successfully caring for their families, we’re making a difference in the lives of those in need, and the business is making a great ROI — the business is successful.” Harley-Davidson is one of those iconic brands that allows customers to really connect with the brand. Their dealers like Wade play an integral part in that as they create a true “experience” and promote a family feeling with customers. Wade works hard, but you can tell she loves what she does. She shared her five-year plan with me which I loved: “Ride safe, play hard, work smart!”
Wade is a great Mississippi success story and should serve as an encourager to anyone considering taking the “road less traveled.”
Up Close With Lisa Wade
Title: Dealer/principal Southern Thunder Harley-Davidson; Graceland Harley-Davidson, Blues City Harley-Davidson
Favorite Books: From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present — Jacques Barzun; John Adams — David McCullough; Love in the Time of Cholera — Gabriel García Márquez; When You Are Engulfed in Flames — David Sedaris
First Job: “14 years old — mucking barns”
Proudest Moment as a Leader: “During an employee breakfast, we were doing an ‘ice breaker’ to have the staff get to know one another better. The task was to go around the room and tell what your proudest moment was sofar. Joining the Southern Thunder Family was second only to the birth of children. That made me proud of what my team has accomplished.”
Hobbies/Interests: Reading, travel, riding
Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.
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