Harley-Davidson's CEO Has It All To Do

Illustration for article titled Harley-Davidsons CEO Has It All To Do
Photo: Getty Images

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

Getting in early with my standard H-D comment before the usual “hate Harley” crowd arrives wishing for the company to die.

I’m skeptical that H-D can survive with a U.S.-only focus, if only for the diversification benefits that international markets (and international manufacturing) brings to any large company. 

That said, if H-D wants to focus on the U.S. market, it will need to adapt to what the U.S. market is today, and what it will be tomorrow. There will always be a place for heavy cruisers in America, but it can’t ALL be heavy cruisers, and every indication is that H-D knows this, or else it wouldn’t be pouring money into electric motorcycles, electric bicycles, the Bronx streetfighter, the Pan-America ADV bike, and whatever else is coming down the pike.  H-D doesn’t need those bikes to be winners, but it *desperately needs those bikes*-- and all the future bikes that appeal to diverse American riders.

———

We get it, you hate the pirate poseurs and loud pipes. So do I.

What I DON’T hate are the motorcycles. And we would be poorer off for losing them.

Are they my personal favorite? No, they’re not. Some I like, many I don’t. I also don’t drive a Mustang, or a Camaro, or an F-150. But millions do, and those vehicles— like H-D motorcycles— are a piece of Americana that millions of good people— your friends, family, and neighbors— enjoy today. It would be a shame to lose all of that.

Yes, let’s all rehash again how H-D screwed up fifteen years ago, and made the wrong bet that the good times would always be there. Let’s all rehash how they were stupid to get rid of Buell, or that they make too much more money on licensing t-shirts, or whatever other exhausted complaint you have.

I’d rather make a NEW complaint— H-D wouldn’t be in this position if it had diversified with more smaller bikes overseas sooner. They’ve taken steps with their India production, but they haven’t gone far enough. Having a stable of sub-300cc bikes that they sell overseas would come in REAL handy now that the globe is facing years of serious economic downturn, where poorer people are going to be forced into buying scooters and motorcycles instead of the cars they aspire to. Instead, they’ve kept all their eggs in the American basket— and worse, a basket that was growing old and threadbare. H-D missed out on the cafe racer trend, they missed out on the ADV trend, and they missed out on the neo-standard trend. I give them credit for pursuing electrification with a passion, but the LiveWire is a tech demo, not a serious competitor, and a bike like that will be the first to go in the coming economy.

I don’t want H-D to fail, and if you’re honest, most of you readers don’t want that, either. You want H-D *to change*, to evolve, so it thrives while still capturing the heritage of a great American company.

Alas, it may not get that chance. And as someone who loves motorcycling, all styles of motorcycling, from ALL manufacturers, it will be a damn shame if we lose them forever.