Harley-Davidson. The very words inspire feelings of independence, the wind in your hair, and a care-free, no rules lifestyle. Founded in 1903, Harley-Davidson has become a world-wide phenomenon as one of the most recognizable motorcycle brands and is synonymous with quality, endurance, and strength. Trevor Bird, vice president and managing partner of both Gruene Harley-Davidson and Javelina Harley-Davidson, goes beyond fast speeds and freedom.
From Bar-Back to Business Owner
A graduate of Texas Christian University, husband to Catie, and father to Emily Grace (5) and Reese (3), Trevor has a long history with Harley-Davidson. As a senior in high school, Trevor met his current business partner, Rugger Gottsacker, son of Hal Gottsacker, one of the best-known businessmen in the Harley-Davidson world.
“In my senior year I had gotten into a disagreement with Rugger, a soccer player at a rival high school,” said Trevor as he recounted the rocky first meeting of his eventual business partner. “Thankfully, once we met, we ended up hitting it off and ended up taking a trip to Texas Christian University together. It was by no coincidence that his father owned the Harley-Davidson franchise in San Antonio. The Lord was ordering my steps.”
After his freshman year at TCU, Trevor began working as a bar-back in a bar on the San Antonio Riverwalk owned by the Gottsacker family. By his sophomore year, together with Rugger, he started Alamo City Promotions, a sports marketing company. Upon graduating TCU with a degree in marketing, he began to consider his options.
“In 1999, anything with a .com attached to it was blowing up, so I decided to go into software development doing corporate implementations,” said Trevor. “After a few years in corporate America, I didn’t like the idea that my fate was in someone else’s hands. So, I quit. Again, the Lord had a plan.”
In November 2002, Trevor’s journey with Harley-Davidson officially began when Hal Gottsacker offered him a job at the successful Alamo City Harley-Davidson in San Antonio, TX.
“It wasn’t a glamorous beginning,” he said, “but I was part of the team that grew the franchise from a one location, 30 employee, $12 million a year operation into a four location, 130 employee, $62 million a year operation in six years. From the first moment of working for Harley-Davidson, I loved hearing customer stories about what their bikes meant to them. It is freedom, independence, and adventure all wrapped up in two wheels.”
In 2006, Trevor was asked to become the new General Manager of Gruene Harley-Davidson in New Braunfels. “I remember thinking that I had never sold a Harley, and now I was going to be the GM of an entire dealership?” said Trevor.
“I loved the behind-the-scenes part of growing a business. I enjoyed creating business concepts, restructuring buildings, and designing work charts, but managing was a whole different ball game." Trevor Bird
I was intimidated. In my position as a creative developer in the background, I didn’t have a lot of accountability; as a GM, an entire team would be accountable to me. It was an interesting crossroads in both my professional and my personal life.”
Obviously, Hal Gottsacker made the right decision. Today, the Gruene Harley-Davidson is thriving and was awarded the coveted Harley-Davidson Motor Company’s Bar and Shield Award for the 2008, 2011 and 2012 calendar years. Presented to the Top 10% of Harley-Davidson dealers in the U.S., this award is based on sales, customer service and satisfaction, and operational measures.
On the Right Track
“Throughout my life I was able to project an image of a guy that had it all together,” said Trevor. “I was always involved with the right groups and sat on the right boards. I never really got into trouble—or I never got caught—however you want to look at it. I looked like I was a success at work and at home, but inside my life was a wreck. I’d fallen away from my relationship with God. I spent no time in the Bible, never attended church, and I filled the void with partying and drinking. I didn’t care about anyone but myself. It wasn’t until I met my wife Catie that my eyes were opened. I thank God daily for her, and I’m so thankful that she didn’t give up on me.”
The turning point in Trevor’s professional life was the influence of a business coach hired by Hal Gottsacker.
“Eleven years ago, while I was still working in San Antonio, Hal hired a business coach,” said Trevor. “When she asked, ‘What is your mission?’ my only answer was to party, have fun, and make money. I had no plan, no corporate strategy. From that point on, she began to show me how to have a vision for the company—to manage a business according to values and strategy. Everything she taught me was through a biblical lens.”
The influence of a Christian business coach and the prayers of a faithful, God-fearing wife began to turn Trevor’s heart toward the pursuit of godliness, not success. After a health scare, Trevor also gave up drinking.
“I realized that I was in serious trouble,” said Trevor. “I had to quit drinking, or I would be on my way towards cirrhosis of the liver. I wasn’t about to let my daughter grow up without a father simply because I was unwilling to stop drinking. I had tried several times before to walk away from alcohol, but I never was able to fully quit. I got to the point where I realized I couldn’t do it alone. That was two and a half years ago, and I’m happy to say that I have had no drinks since then.”
Viewing his journey through recovery as an opportunity to minister, Trevor has made himself available to his employees for support and counsel. He also joined C12, the international Christian CEO roundtable and executive coaching group, as a way to hold himself accountable to other Christian businessmen in his local area.
“I plugged into support groups, and my world began to shift away from care-free living to accountability,” said Trevor. “My life changed.”
Not Riding Alone
Recognizing that the heart is deceitful and the flesh is strong, Trevor cites accountability in the workplace as both a necessity to and a by-product of successful business management.
“If I wasn’t holding myself accountable, I had no right to expect my employees to be accountable to me,” said Trevor. “When you walk around in a world of worry and anxiety, it’s hard to hold other people accountable, because you’re worried about offending people, but when you trust in God and are surrendered to Christ, you know that He’s the guy that’s ultimately carrying the company. By holding people accountable and by being accountable to others, I’ve seen God do amazing things in our company in a short period of time.”
Trevor focuses on transparency. Leading by example, he pursues excellence in both his business ventures and his personal life.
“Our values are our compass,” said Trevor. “Each month key players are required to report on our four core values: teamwork, integrity, passion and success. At our weekly management meetings, we recognize employees for values in action, share victories, and discuss obstacles in both our personal and professional lives. We hold people accountable at our dealership; it is non-negotiable.”
Taking employee well-being to the next level, over the last two years, Gruene Harley-Davidson has adopted the Harley Heart Program. Every two weeks an independent third party is available to counsel employees with struggles in the workplace or personally. Whether in regards to personal or professional concerns, if requested, the counselor is able to call in additional resources at no cost to the employee.
“They have someone to talk to about struggles at home, about illnesses or grief, about addiction,” said Trevor. “We want our employees to feel valued and respected. We also offer an employee-led Bible study, and I’ve watched men and women meet Christ through this study. I never dreamed that God would use me like this; I still think of myself as a baby in my walk with Christ. To think that I could play a small role in leading someone to Christ is almost too big an idea to wrap my head around.”
Between Trevor’s two dealerships, they see tens of thousands of customers annually. Recognizing the possibility of outreach, both the Gruene Harley-Davidson and the Javelina Harley-Davidson dealerships have incorporated community programs into their daily operations.
“We don’t just sell bikes; we make our dealership a community hub,” Trevor said. “We want to give back to our local community. Every weekend there is something going on at the shop, most often with local non-profit organizations. It’s in our DNA.”
Twenty-one years ago, Hal Gottsacker helped found For the Love of Kids and Harleys, a non-profit organization that assists in the funding of local charities that focus on the development, safety, and well-being of the children in local communities. Over the years, this organization has given almost $3.5 million to children’s charities across the country. Over the last ten years, Trevor has had the privilege to be on the board to help carry out that mission.
“Community awareness is in the forefront of our employees’ minds,” said Trevor. “Every week someone new comes up with an idea to minister to the community. For the last seven years we have provided Thanksgiving lunch for service men and women at Lackland Air Force Base, because one of our employees had the idea to serve the military. This year, we are organizing a 5k run to raise money to provide a better meal. It’s been a blessing to watch our team start to take ownership of giving back. They have caught the vision.”
My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Weakness is not a Harley-Davidson trait; rather, the brand is famous for strength, endurance, and power. In direct opposition to the ideology of Harley-Davidson, Trevor Bird glories in the weakness within him.
“I have found all my strength in my weaknesses,” said Trevor with great conviction. “I am nothing, but through Christ. I’m the guy that doesn’t drink and supports other people dealing with addictions; I’m not exactly a common factor in the Harley world. I think some people may have seen my decision to be transparent and accountable to others as weakness, but through it I have found so much strength. When I am at my weakest, Christ can truly work through me, because I am not in the way.”
Making time to set himself apart from the busyness of life, Trevor has come to realize that the most important part of his day is the time alone with God every morning. As a dad to a three and five year old, he recognizes that quiet mornings are fleeting, unless he prepares ahead of time. “There is no such thing as a perfect morning,” said Trevor. “I have found that I have to get up 20-30 minutes before my children in order have time alone with God.”
With an organized regimen of bible study, devotionals, and prayer, Trevor spends the first moments of every day alone with God.
“It’s hard to be quiet and listen to God, but it is vital to our survival in this world,” said Trevor. “There is unlimited power at the feet of Jesus. We just have to sit, be still, and listen—to stop worrying and allow God to open our ears to what He has to say.” Trevor Bird
The End of the Journey
Trevor has seen God’s hand of guidance on his life. He recognizes that he is an enigma within the Harley-Davidson community. He understands the value of accountability and transparency. He is constantly, fervently beseeching God to use him in his community and his company despite his failings and missteps.
“Never give up,” he said. “As humans, we continue to fall, but never stop getting up. Find someone that will keep you accountable; sit with fellow Christian businessmen and women who have been through the battle and have survived; grow in your faith daily. Hold yourself accountable even when it hurts. Be transparent. Be the light and perform so well that others in community will look and wonder. Embody Matthew 5:16.”