Self-made businessman known for charitable nature
It wasn’t surprising to learn that one of John Lehman’s longest-tenured employees at Lehman Trikes began his relationship with the company founder first as a customer, then as a friend.
Paul Pankonin, operations manager at Lehman Trikes, bought his first trike from John as a 21-year-old in Westlock, Alb. “We were both from there and I ended up becoming friends with him after he sold me the trike. Most of his customers turned out to be his friends,” Pankonin said last month.
Most would say the same of Lehman, who died of heart failure on Jan. 5 in Arizona at the age of 60. He is survived by his wife Linda; son Quinten; daughter Leann; sisters Gladys, Linda and Carol; and three grandchildren.
The self-made businessman, who founded the company and was president of it at the time of his death, weaved a classic tale of industry success. In 1984, he created the first modern trike in his Canadian hometown of Westlock, Alb., so Linda could carry one of their children. All Lehman did after that was go on to become one of the most recognizable figures in the industry.
“John was optimistic. He always saw the good side of everything,” Pankonin said.
And if that side had some chrome, even better.
“We’d build these nice show bikes, then he would take them to Daytona or Myrtle [Beach] and put another several hundred dollars into it,” Pankonin said. “He put the final touches on it and made it something that people wanted to buy.”
His approach to customer service brought with it a sincerity that can be taught in any coursework.
“He was accommodating to people, whatever their needs were. People were important to John. It wasn’t just about selling another piece. He wanted his customers to feel like they had bought into the business,” Pankonin said.
Larry Strilchuk, a shareholder and Lehman board member who was president of the company until 2008, shared a love of hot-rodding with Lehman as youngsters in Westlock. Separated by only two years in age and eight miles between their homes, the two became fast pals.
“I must have been 12 when we first met,” Strilchuk said. “When he was 21, he broke his back in an accident, and he came to work for the small trucking company that I owned. We’ve been best friends for 40 about years. He met Linda when he was working for me. She was a dispatcher at one of the plants we hauled to. He was smitten with her right away. He asked her out and about 10 days later they were engaged. Those two were made for each other.”
Strilchuk went on to sell his trucking company and in 1993 bought half of Lehman Industries. The two had been business partners ever since.
“John’s the most honest and sincere, straight-up guy you’ve ever met in your life,” Strilchuk said. “Everybody he meets loves him. And he never forgets anybody. He’s the most optimistic person I’ve ever met in my life.”
But what about the business?
“He was fiercely proud of the company because it carried his name. He wasn’t all that interested in the financial part or the business part, but he wanted to build the best bike he could and make as many people happy as he could. He wanted to do something that was unique and different, and I believe he did all that.”
Strilchuck said Lehman would attend about two dozen bike shows per year.
“He was an enthusiast first and foremost — that was his passion,” Strilchuk said. “Sturgis was always his favorite, because people ride to Sturgis and they come from every culture and subculture.”
And all were likely remembering their friend in January.
In this edition, you’ll notice the new model leaders in the ATV section. The R.L. Polk ATV data for the September registrations in the Jan. 23 edition of PSB contained processing errors, which led to improvements in procedures, ultimately improving the status of the data overall, according to Polk’s Jody Doublestein.
Also in the Jan. 23 edition of PSB, there was an error on the pricing on the Cycle Country by Kolpin DIX-C Drive-In Exchange System. The MSRP is $574.99. And the wrong phone number was listed for Vee Rubber. It should have been 404/305-9394.
He said it
“We’re shipping out two full semis of bikes just for the displays. It looks like the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus out here right now.” That’s how Ryan Keefe of National Powersport Auctions described the company’s preparation for Dealer Expo at its headquarters in San Diego.
All bias, all the time
Here’s how one distributor described the growth of bias ply tires, which are being snapped up by owners of cruisers and older bikes.
“Bias ply tires have seen significant growth. Radials continue to grow, too. Before it was radial, radial, radial. Now we’re seeing crazy growth in bias ply.”
Dave McMahon is Senior Editor of Powersports Business. Reach him at email@example.com or 763/383-4411.