November 5, 2012

UNL Alum Mixes Motorcycles, Management and Marketing in Talk with MBA Students

MBA students at the UNL College of Business Administration were recently treated to a mix of motorcycles and marketing in their international business course. Michael Boyle, a UNL alumnus and vice president plant manager at the Kawasaki plant in Lincoln, Neb., was the invited speaker of instructor Dr. Elina Ibrayeva. He brought students a unique perspective of how supply chain management works in the local economy.

Boyle described the unique role that the Lincoln plant plays in creating an international product sold exclusively to foreign markets.

“The motorcycles we make in Lincoln are only made in Lincoln,” Boyle said. “We build those in Lincoln and export globally from here, so the things we do in Lincoln are unique as far as consumer products go. We’re really an integral part of that supply chain right here in Nebraska.”

Students learned that Kawasaki, which has operated in Lincoln since 1974, has to market their product differently overseas, in part because the motorcycles are built differently than the U.S. models.

Michael Boyle

Michael Boyle speaks with MBA Students

“Different cultures have different expectations about what a motorcycle is and what it does,” Boyle said. “In the United States, it’s more of a pleasure vehicle and there’s often a certain lifestyle attached to it. In Europe and Southeast Asia, it’s much more of a utility or work vehicle, so the product requirements are much different in those environments.”

The marketing efforts are then tailored to those expectations, along with an emphasis on smaller displacement and higher mileage.

“In developing countries we position ourselves as a motorcycle to aspire to,” Boyle said. “We aren’t the lowest cost motorcycle. We’re a higher performance motorcycle and a little higher quality. We are the type of motorcycle that the average rider wants to eventually own.”

Sarah Vargas, an MBA student in the class from Lincoln, was excited to see the educational theories come to life through Boyle’s presentation.

“I enjoyed hearing the different marketing methods used within Kawasaki to appeal to specific markets in which it operates,” Vargas said.  “It was fascinating to see these theories at work in an international business like Kawasaki, and also to better understand the different legal requirements and concerns regarding fluctuations in the exchange rate.”

Boyle explained that in addition to building motorcycles, the Lincoln plant also manufactures rail cars. In both cases there are regulatory concerns to follow.

“The U.S. government does have extra requirements on us as an international business here in Lincoln,” Boyle said. “We also make rail cars here for the North American market and are an important manufacturer in this part of the world. The rail car production produces a certain amount of U.S. labor production and materials content to satisfy other political and regulatory requirements for the company.”

Madison Drake, also an MBA student from Lincoln, was also inspired by Boyle’s personal story and the potential opportunities at the Lincoln Kawasaki plant, which currently employs over 2,000 workers.

“I appreciate that Kawasaki looks at UNL grads to fill open positions within the company,” Drake said. “It was beneficial to hear him discuss the experiences and challenges of a multinational company.”

Boyle, who graduated from UNL with an engineering degree, also pointed out his fondness for the business courses that he took while a student at Nebraska.

“When I was going to school I took a lot of business classes for my electives,” Boyle said. “I enjoyed those classes and feel they prepared me for my advancement through the ranks at Kawasaki.”