How a defense and aerospace exec winds up heading Polaris

By Neil Pascale
Early last spring, Scott Wine concluded a breakfast meeting with a corporate recruiter with a single, shared thought.
The chance of him moving his wife and two young boys from Connecticut to the Twin Cities area of Minnesota for an executive position at one of the largest American powersports manufacturers seemed remote, at best.
“No more than a 5 percent chance,” Wine recalled.
How quickly things can change, as the new CEO of Polaris Industries can attest.
Wine’s path to his new office in Medina, Minn., nearly never happened, seemed unlikely to go anywhere once it began and finally accelerated atop a quad on a trail in Wyoming, Minn. Even before what Wine jokingly refers to a “long and painful” hiring process, his path to the top of Polaris was guided by both decisions he and the company made several years prior to the announcement in August of his new post.
Wine initially followed the likely path of a Naval Academy graduate by going into the defense and aerospace industry. That path veered considerably when the Virginia native decided to broaden his expertise, and hopefully his resume.
“I didn’t want to be a guy who was pigeon-holed as an aerospace and defense guy,” Wine said of his decision to leave the aerospace industry. “One of my fundamental beliefs is that leadership is a transferable skill set.”
While Wine left the aerospace business around 2003, Polaris Industries came to a crossroads of its own some time later as the business’ traditional core segments, snowmobiles and ATVs, softened in its prime market, the United States. As a result, Polaris made several key decisions, including ramping up its efforts to win more U.S. military contracts and considerably expand its international sales.
Those two concentrations wound up dovetailing nicely with Wine’s background, which not only included a seven-year stint as a supply officer in the U.S military but also considerable experience overseas, including for a number of years in Germany.
Perhaps that’s why Wine was one of 15 candidates that emerged from a pool of a couple hundred applicants who were vying to become just the third Polaris CEO in the past 27 years.
The fact that Wine was even part of the initial pool is a feat in itself as the recruiter’s initial contact never reached him. Wine inadvertently deleted it from his cell phone. In fact, he was quite surprised to receive an e-mail a couple weeks later from the recruiter asking him why he never responded to the phone message. Thus the later breakfast meeting, and the agreed-upon minute chance of Wine switching jobs.
At the time, Wine said he was pleased with his situation, both in terms of quality of life with his family and their community and church connections and in his position as president of a unit of Hartford, Conn.-based United Technologies Corp.
“We were driving a lot of good things,” Wine said of the company, which had been extremely active on the acquisition side in his 16 months there.
Wine’s perspective changed dramatically during the Polaris interview process, especially at a site tour of Polaris’ Wyoming, Minn., facility. Included with the tour of the 126,000-square-foot engineering facility was a ride of a number of Polaris vehicles, including the RZR and the new Sportsmen XP 850 EFI.
“I didn’t realize what an important part of the interview that was,” Wine said in recalling the event, which was part of a second, two day-long interview.
“They (the board of directors) felt very strongly that the person who took this job needed to have a passion for the products, and I just loved their product. I had been away from it for a few years, but just to get back on … I had a blast.”
Also of importance to Wine was the Polaris board of directors’ concentration on growing — not restructuring — the company during a challenging economy. Wine recalls those discussions revolving around the company’s “international footprint being more than just in Europe, about acquisitions being not just something we do due diligence on but something we execute on, prudently of course. Those are things that resonate with me.”
Enough, evidently, to overcome overwhelming odds.
“I left those two days in the Twin Cities saying, ‘Wow, I really want this job.’”

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