Four months ago, news that beleaguered Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) CEO Jim Ziemer planned to ride off into the sunset sent shares of the motorcycle maker soaring 8%. Presumably, investors hoped that his replacement would do better. Therefore, yesterday's 6% tumble in stock price indicates investors fear that new CEO Keith Wandell wasn't the tonic needed to fix what ails them.

I think that fear is misplaced.

Fact is, Wandell's record suggests that he just might be the right person to pull Harley out of the ditch it's been driven into and get the company turned around. A 21-year veteran of auto parts maker Johnson Controls (NYSE:JCI), Wandell served as general manager of the firm's starting, lighting, and ignition division within the Automotive Systems Group; president of the battery division within that same group; president of the entire group; and, most recently, as the company COO -- all positions of authority, I think you will agree. Also, all positions that mean Wandell deserves a degree of credit for the firm's successes and failures. So, how has Johnson fared?

At Johnson Controls, Wandell helped contribute to the company's phenomenal growth that has netted shareholders 13% annual returns during his tenure. And while it's true that Johnson has suffered recently as business fell apart at customers Ford (NYSE:F), General Motors (NYSE:GM), Honda (NYSE:HMC), and Toyota (NYSE:TM), the fact remains that Wandell's time in the executive offices has served Johnson well. From the time Wandell took over as president of Johnson's Automotive Systems Group in late July 2003, Johnson's stock has held onto its value -- as Harley's stock disintegrated.

When in a hole, stop digging
More than Johnson's stock price, however, Wandell impresses me with how he's helped run Johnson's business in this recession. As sales plummeted 22% sequentially last quarter, Wandell worked to control inventories and maximize free cash flow from the business that did get done. Result: Inventories declined throughout the year, and in a miserable time for both cars and construction, Johnson generated $545 million in cash profit over the past 12 months.

This tells me that Wandell has the chops to finally address Harley's biggest problem -- rising inventories in a time of declining sales. Thanks largely to a continued growth in inventories despite slipping sales, Harley had trouble generating cash last year, forcing management to cut its dividend and go hat-in-hand to Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-B) for a loan.

Here's hoping that with Wandell now in charge, Harley will finally learn to fix its own problems.

Why is that? Read on and find out:

Berkshire Hathaway is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Berkshire Hathaway is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.