University of Pittsburgh

Riding to the Top Full Throttle

The sight that Toby O' Brien Jr. (MBA '91) sees each morningrows of Harley-Davidson motorcycles gleaming on the showroom flooris enough to make the "baddest" of grown men weep with envy.

O'Brien is the owner of Hot Metal Harley-Davidson in West Mifflin. The full-service dealership, the largest in the Pittsburgh market, is a recipient of Harley-Davidson Motor Co.'s prestigious Bar and Shield Circle of Recognition Award, an achievement reserved for the top 15 percent of dealers nationally.

"The bikes are synonymous with America. Harley is the second-most recognizable brand in the United States behind Coca-Cola," O'Brien says. "You have the throaty rumble of the exhaust pipes, the shiny chrome exterior, that timeless design."

O' Brien's favorite bike is the Street Glide model. But O'Brien wasn't always a bike guy. In fact, before he bought the dealership in June 2004, his background was in finance. O'Brien had worked for Westinghouse Credit, Ernst & Young, and PNC Equity Partners.

"I was always a big fan of the brand. This was an investment decision more than it was a passion for riding. But I've developed that passion over the past eight years," O'Brien says.

Harley-Davidson was founded in Milwaukee in 1903. The bikes, immortalized in the 1969 film Easy Rider starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, have appealed to all types of riders, from Elvis to members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club.

Harley-Davidson dealerships are independently owned. O'Brien says running a small business of 30 employees is much different than his past job in private equity. Then, he would assist in middle market leverage buyouts. Now he must account for challenges like seasonal demand.

"The day-to-day operations are very different than just looking at the financials and telling managers how to do their job based on the financial statement," O'Brien says. "You're dealing with 30 different personalities, and you have managers whom you have to motivate so they can motivate their staff to perform better."

O' Brien improved the performance of his dealership in a number of ways. He overhauled staffing, retooled the service department, modernized the showroom's interior, upgraded the computer system, and - most importantly - changed the dealership's philosophy.

"There are roughly 15 dealers in Western Pennsylvania. We all sell similar inventory. What sets us apart from the other dealerships is our people," O'Brien says.

O'Brien credits his master's degree from the Katz Graduate School of Business for leading him to a career in finance. That then led to his purchasing Hot Metal Harley-Davidson dealership. O' Brien and his wife, Kathleen, have four children. They reside in Squirrel Hill.

"Katz was really the springboard to get me going in the right direction," O'Brien says.

For more information about Hot Metal Harley-Davidson, call 412-464-9453 or visit www.hotmetalharley.com