After Harley-Davidson’s former CEO Matt Levatich was ousted in February, Harley’s chairman Jochen Zeitz was appointed Acting CEO, while the company said it would name a permanent successor. Today, Harley revealed that Zeitz, in fact, is its permanent choice for CEO.
Zeitz’s most relevant experience his 18-year term running Puma, the German shoe and sportswear company, where he is credited with turning around a failing company on the verge of bankruptcy. He’ll have to perform a similar trick at Harley, though the heavy motorcycle business is a little less robust than shoes and sportswear. (Harley, of course, also has its own line of branded apparel.)
Zeitz at least sounds confident.
Over the next few months, we will rewire the business and define a new 5-year strategic plan later this year. I will then oversee the implementation of these changes and reignite Harley-Davidson as one of the most revered and iconic brands in the world.
Zeitz says that he’ll also reorganize things in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
In alignment with the board, my decision to become the President and CEO of Harley-Davidson reflects my deep passion and commitment to this company. During this extraordinary time of crisis my first priority is the well-being of our H-D community as I execute our COVID-19 response plan efforts to stabilize the business, resume operations and recover. I am also leading a necessary and comprehensive overhaul of the company structure, operating model, and strategy as we adjust to the new post COVID-19 realities.
Zeitz’s said in April that has strategy would be based around less of a focus on foreign markets, and a bigger emphasis on selling motorcycles in the U.S. That’s a pretty stark departure from that of Levatich, who once plotted a course for Harley to sell half of its volume overseas, up from about 40 percent.
The end result of Zeitz’s strategy in the near-term will probably be quite simply a leaner company, since heavy motorcycles sales have been trending down for a longtime as boomers grow smaller in number. For the long-term, Zeitz is probably betting pretty big on Harley’s electric motorcycles—Reuters says he was a “force” behind LiveWire—though that market still largely remains more theoretical than anything else.