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Spending all day Saturday riding her Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe is Aimee Vessell’s idea of a great time. Blue sky overhead, an open road, and buddies for company–that’s what satisfies her free spirit. When she took her new post as Harley-Davidson’s manager of international projects in Milwaukee last fall, she knew winter weather would curtail her riding season, but she was ready for a new career challenge.

Vessell came to MIT to attend the Leaders for Manufacturing (LFM) program, hoping to refocus her career on manufacturing. After earning a bachelor’s in environmental engineering from Northwestern University in 1995, she had spent 10 years as an engineer, traveling constantly to jobs ranging from hazardous-waste remediation to demolition. “Manufacturing is very much like a construction site,” she says. “You are managing people and money and operations–there are a lot of moving parts. And it’s a good balance between tactical and strategic work.”

As a grad student at MIT, she focused primarily on supply chain management and operations. A six-month LFM internship at a Harley-Davidson plant confirmed her direction. She loved the work and the company, and she accepted a permanent job before returning to campus to complete her degree. After graduation and several short assignments with Harley-Davidson, she started a job in 2007 managing 150 people assembling Sportster motorcycles at the company’s plant in Kansas City, MO.

Vessell likes the strategic scope of her new international job–and she’s happy to be working for Rod Copes, SM ‘93, senior vice president of international sales, marketing, and business development, who also earned dual degrees from LFM (now called Leaders for Global Operations).

“We expect a lot of our growth going forward to come from our international regions. It’s exciting to be on the front lines,” she says. “My role is cross-functional, looking at our international business as a whole across all regions. My current focus is on our organization design.”

Vessell sees a bright future for Harley-Davidson and for her career there. “As part of the leadership development program, I have a front-row seat for some energizing changes and challenges,” she says. “As a leader here, it’s not just your responsibility to produce results and get things done but it’s also your responsibility to develop people. And that creates opportunities for everyone.” And, besides, she has her eye on a new hog–a Harley model coming out in 2010.

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