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Polaris Names Morgan President, COO

May 16, 2005
Filed under Features

Bennett Morgan, an 18-year-veteran of Polaris Industries, and the man who most recently headed up the company’s largest business unit, was named president and chief operating officer, effective April 12.
He assumes the titles held by Tom Tiller since Tiller joined Polaris in 1999. Tiller continues as chief executive officer.
The move was part of a major reorganization that officials say positions the company for international growth, especially over the next five years.
Morgan’s promotion coincided with the departure of Ken Sobaski, vice president of sales, marketing and business development. Sobaski joined Polaris in 2001 following a stint with ConAgra Foods, Inc., where he was president of the company’s $3.1 billion Grocery Brands division based in Irvine, Calif.
Sobaski’s role was to lead many of Polaris’ growth initiatives, including acquisitions and partnerships, as well as reorganizing and upgrading its dealer network.
While Sobaski was seen by some as a leading candidate to take over for Tiller, Morgan’s promotion made it clear that he would not run Polaris.
“Ken wanted to run a company,” said one Polaris executive, “and that wasn’t going to happen here.” Sobaski did not return a phone call from Powersports Business.

Musical Chairs
At the same time it promoted Morgan, Polaris made several other related management changes, outlined in the organizational chart on this page, including these:
n Mike Dougherty replaces Morgan as general manager of the ATV Division. Dougherty most recently headed Polaris’ international operations.
n John Corness, vice president of human resources and a veteran of international business, takes over for Dougherty until a full time replacement can be found.
n Mike Jonikas, formerly general manager of Polaris’ Utility Division,has been appointed general manager of sales and marketing, replacing Sobaski.
n Tim DeJong replaces Jonikas as general manager of the Utility Division. DeJong has been with Polaris for 14 years, and most recently served as director of operations at the company’s Roseau, Minn., production facility.

Looking Ahead
In an interview with Powersports Business, Tiller said the promotion of Morgan helps strengthen the company and is expected to enable him to do more long range planning.
“They’re part of our long term vision for the company,” says Tiller. “If we’re going to reach $3 billion in 2009, I’m going to need help.”
The moves are not a precursor to his leaving Polaris for a bigger company, said the former GE executive. “I really love this company,” says Tiller, “and I’ve put a lot of heart and soul into this. At GE, we moved 12 times in 15 years, and my wife and I decided this is where we want to stay, at least until the kids are out of school.” The Tillers have three children, ages 18, 15 and 12.
Tiller, 43, has been approached by other companies, but says he’s not eager to run a larger company. “I have enough meetings right here he says.”
Morgan sets the stage for the run to a $3 billion company. “I feel comfortable with Bennett and we work well together,” says Tiller. “At the end of the day, you have to deliver, and he always delivers.
Tiller and Morgan will form a two-man team of Mr. Outside (Tiller) and Mr. Inside (Morgan). Tiller will be the public face of Polaris, dealing with the media and the securities analysts and investors. Morgan will be responsible for all the operations inside the company.
Morgan’s biggest asset in Tiller’s eyes is that he’s a very good leader. “He understands people; he’s a leader because he can inspire people,” he says. “People really like to work for him.”
Morgan, understandably, is excited about the opportunity and the challenges ahead. “I’ll have a great chance to learn from Tom, what he does as a CEO.It just gets to be too much for one guy, no matter how incredible he is. Tom has had dual roles since 1999, and the business has almost doubled since then. We are a much broader global company than we were in 1999; our international operations are much more complex.”
While Morgan declined to talk in too much detail about how he will handle the new responsibilities, given he had only been at it a few days when he talked with Powersports Business, he did have some observations on the road head.
The biggest challenge will be in the North American ATV market, where growth has slowed considerably. ATVS are important at Polaris, accounting for more than 65% of annual sales revenues.
“For me and the organization,” says Morgan, “the North American ATV market is still a lucrative and wonderful market; it’s large and massive. But the growth we’ve come to expect isn’t there. It’s low single digit right now, and that’s (going to be) for the foreseeable future. That creates a challenge for all companies and dealers.”
Morgan, 42, intends to use the successful strategies developed in the ATV business to help drive Polaris to $3 billion in the next four years.
“Not to sound arrogant or smug,but we continue to be the innovation leader in this business. We take chances. We push the edge more,” he says, pointing out that 62% of Polaris’ 2005 lineup was new, including a major redesign of the Sportsman. “Nobody else can say that,” he says, “or execute that, or bring that to market.”
Morgan says the changes resulting from his move have been thought about carefully and have positioned Polaris for growth, especially across international markets.
“I feel very fortunate to put the quality of people in those changes; I feel better for making those changes. They’ll benefit us in the short term and in the long term.”
As he says this, he recounts the new players: Mike Dougherty (“Wonderful track record in international business; great leader of people.”); Tim DeJong (“Operations guy. Cross functional Knows product and people. Perfect guy to take Ranger to the next level.”); Mike Jonikas (“If you look at the dealer network, we need critical thinking, focus and consistency. That’s Mike.”); Bill Fisher(“He’s one of the best process guys we have. He’ll use technology to focus on our needs. Service and call center were always fourth or fifth in priority. Now they’ll get a laser focus.”), and John Corness (“More international experience than anyone in the company. International is really a people challenge.”).
But Morgan’s top priority is immediate: “My eye is on delivering the second quarter (numbers),” he says.

– Joe Delmont

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