By Guido Ebert
Greg Brew is the director of design for Polaris Industries, the head of the Medina-based crew that shapes Victory and Indian motorcycles. In fact, every product made by Polaris starts in Brew’s department before moving on to engineers in Wyoming, Minn., engine builders in Osceola, Wis., and production workers in Spirit Lake, Iowa.
MMM recently had a chance to converse with Brew, who was born in upstate New York, grew up mostly in Arizona and Colorado, went on to study in California and Switzerland, and taught and worked overseas for the first part of his career before leaving BMW Designworks nine years ago for Polaris.
MMM: So your team pretty much touches everything Polaris builds?
GB: There’s a bunch of stuff we do, and I love the diversity of it all. There’s Victory and Indian, snow and ATV and SxS, a couple of different electric vehicle divisions, a lot of military stuff, a lot of crazy powertrain stuff, and then there are some divisions that haven’t even surfaced yet.
MMM: What is the size of the crew you work with?
GB: When I started nine years ago we had four guys and now we’re at around 30. It’s a big department.
MMM: Do you have certain teams that work on motorcycles and certain teams that work on snow?
GB: It was easier to do in the past. What we try to do is let everybody offer input on everything. You like to do that because it keeps people fresh and excited. But, on the flip side, there are also some folks who are specialized.
For instance, finding a motorcycle designer is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my entire life. There are just a handful of them in the U.S. Seriously, if car designers are rare, bike designers are really, really rare. So, since I don’t have a bunch of them, those guys tend to concentrate on the bikes.
MMM: Who are the guys that make up the bike team?
GB: Mike Song, Rich Christoph and Greg Tada are my principle bike designers. There are also a couple of guys who I am sure will become bike designers because they are just so damn talented – raging, enormous, monster talents – and I can already see that they’ll be able to do it.
MMM: It sounds like you’re actually cultivating talent.
GB: You kind of have to. Just look at what Polaris is doing with the addition of Indian and all of the product news they insist comes out of Victory regularly. You can imagine that, if they’re doubling the size of the motorcycle business, I’m going to have to work on doubling the size of the staff, really put the pedal to the metal and make sure I have people to do the work that they’re requiring. It’s a tough combination. They want to grow that business really fast, and yet (bike designers are) the hardest thing for me to find.
MMM: What was the first bike you worked on for Victory?
GB: The first bike was the Vision, and that started the day after I stopped working at BMW. I hadn’t even moved or anything yet and Song sent over a bunch of drawings and we immediately started looking at it.
MMM: The Vegas was already out, so it sounds like you were there for the Vision, Cross Country, Judge, Boardwalk, High Ball, Hard Ball, etc.
GB: The Vegas was already out and the Hammer had just come out. In fact, the Vegas was the springboard for a lot of different bikes, different variants, because its fundamental design is so good. For instance, the High-Ball was Mike and I just kind of goofing around.
MMM: Victory grew from nothing to become a widely recognized brand within the past 15 years.
GB: Cut me and I bleed Victory. Because we bled for Victory for a long time, and to get it where it is today took hard work. Your business isn’t just designing, you have to fight for resources, you have to fight to make people understand that it’s going to be a viable business, and you have to make people believe. And that was a lot of work. Now, holy smokes, it’s amazing how much sales have gone up.
MMM: On the flip side, here we are on the eve of the unveiling of the new Indian, which is a storied brand. What are your thoughts?
GB: We’ve been doing a ton of work on Indian. It’s an amazing honor to have that badge on your shirt. It’s a big deal and huge responsibility.
MMM: What did you go to school for?
GB: Transportation design, initially at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. I went to school to become a car designer, and ultimately I did 14 years of car design. But, in all honesty, I really didn’t know you could get a job as a car designer until I was about 25 because I was more on the mechanical side – a gear-head for as long as I can remember.
MMM: But you have a long-standing interest in motorcycles.
GB: I have always been on motorcycles, ever since I was about 9 years old.
MMM: And how did you end up at Polaris?
GB: BMW Designworks brought me back to the U.S., and I spent four years there in sort of a third party role, designing pretty much everything transportation-related aside from automobiles. Which is really what prepared me for the job at
Polaris. I don’t know that I could have really done the job that I do now without understanding the dynamic of working with lots of different companies, because working for Polaris is like working for a lot of different companies – the snowmobile division is very different from the motorcycle division which is very different from the SxS division. They all have a very different drive, desire, culture, history, etc.
MMM: Other parts of the country – particularly the motorcycle hotbed of Southern California – view us here in the Midwest as fly-over territory. You have been around, what are your thoughts?
GB: I know what you mean. There is an awesome bike scene here. Sure, it’s not as glamorous as the West Coast, but this is like the cradle of American motorcycles. There are famous builders from this part of the country, there’s S&S, and there’s our respected competitor Harley-Davidson and the supply base that has been established … it’s not like the Midwest is an arid desert for motorcycles.