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Jason Momoa (i.e. “Aquaman”) collaborates with Harley-Davidson

How often have we recently heard… “We continue to face challenges during these unprecedented times.” — Harley-Davidson CEO Jochen Zeitz opening statement during the July 28, 2020 financial call.

I’m not a grammar nerd, but “unprecedented times” is a tiresome word.  Stop saying it Mr. Zeitz – and it’s also inaccurate!

We are not in an “unprecedented” time.

This isn’t the 1930’s Great Depression, the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world. There’s been no dot-com bubble (i.e. Internet bubble) that was caused by excessive speculation in Internet-related companies in the late 1990s. It’s not the real estate bubble of 2008 and the follow-on market crash, recession and unemployment that was linked to the “subprime mortgage crisis.” There is no automotive industry crisis of 2008–2010 where declining automobile sales and scarce availability of credit led to General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford facing insolvency without major government intervention. It’s not the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed 675,000 Americans and the worldwide death toll was estimated at 100 million. One pandemic death is too much, but the COVID-19 deaths are currently nowhere close to that, thankfully.

Q2 2020 HOG Earnings Report

So, stop using these new most-hated sayings: “unprecedented” times, it’s the “new normal” and “we are in this together” mantra.

And, who’s the “we” here? The point is “we” are not all on the same team in this pandemic. Everyone is dealing with it in their own way. The restaurant employee who’s been unemployed for months isn’t in this together with a Fortune 500 CEO.  The nurse on the front-line treating pandemic patients isn’t in this with the marketing manager who can work from home.

It’s not “unprecedented” for me to rant about something while being largely sequestered at home for nearly five months. But it is what it is, I guess.

Back to the Q2’20 financial call… and some key comments made during the call:

  • The Harley-Davidson culture has suffered. The company has seen five consecutive restructuring’s every year in order to basically chase the downward trend in sales.
  • The Rewire” strategic vision is now being replaced by “The Hardwire.” (more on this at the bottom of the post)
  • Extending the 2020 model year through fall (historically launch was late August) and now new bikes will arrive in dealer showrooms early 2021.
  • Used motorcycle pricing increased about 6% throughout Q2, certainly, higher than Harley has seen in any previous quarter.
  • Harley continues to see strong potential in Adventure Touring and will launch Pan America globally in 2021.
  • Harley has streamlined the structure, which now requires approx 700 fewer positions and approximately 500 employees laid off.
  • H-D is not willing to sacrifice the strength of their legacy in a quest for pure volume growth going forward.
  • Increased recognition on the role of digital technology as a critical priority in the future for Harley-Davidson.
  • H-D will focus on roughly 50 primary markets that generate the vast majority of their retail sales and shipments.
  • Surprise!  Planning to add a Sustainability Officer to the team who will further H-D commitment to the planet and to society.
  • New brand building approach and social media campaign directed by “Aquaman” i.e. Jason Momoa (video of Mr. Momoa touring H-D Museum)

Q2’20 Numbers:

  • Harley-Davidson posted a loss of $0.60 per share for Q2’20
  • Worldwide retail sales of new motorcycles were down 26.6% versus prior year and Q2 revenue of $865 million was down 47% year over year.
  • U.S. retail sales in Q2’20 were down 26.7% versus prior year.
  • EMEA declined 29.8%, Asia Pacific was down 10.2%, and Latin America saw declines in Mexico and Brazil and finished the quarter down 51%.
  • U.S. market share of new bike registrations was 38.5%, down 8.1 percentage points
  • Motorcycle mix shifted from touring to cruising versus Q2’19, which reduced average motorcycle revenue per bike.
  • Credit losses were down due to lower delinquencies and lower repossessions helped by H-D offering of payment extensions to certain customers.
  • While Q2 results were again terrible, Harley-Davidson was still able to sell over 31,000 motorcycles in the U.S. during a global health crisis that closed off its retail stores.

During the financial call, Mr. Zeitz announced Harley will have yet another roadmap to follow: “The Hardwire,” the motor company’s third visionary plan in two years.

You might recall “The More Roads to Harley-Davidson” plan unveiled in July 2018 which stated the development of 100 new models over 10 years, giving more attention to international markets than in the U.S. market, and putting a much greater focus on electric vehicles.

That plan was largely abandoned earlier this year when then CEO Matt Levatich abruptly left the company and was replaced by chairman Zeitz. The “More Roads” was replaced by the vague and loosely defined “The Rewire” plan, which incorporated some of Levatich’s plan, but would instead focus more on key markets and products to drive the bike maker’s profitability and growth potential.

Now we can look forward to a new 5-year strategic plan; “The Hardwire,” which will be grounded in enhancing the desirability of Harley’s brand and protecting the value (i.e., keep pricing elevated) of the iconic products.” The Hardwire roadmap is expected to take over in the fourth quarter and serve as the strategic plan for the company to follow through 2025.

Photos courtesy of Asphalt & Rubber and Harley-Davidson

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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According to an article by @bob_tita in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ – Paywall), Harley-Davidson plans to reopen its factories this week at lower production rates and stated it will be sending dealers an attenuated range of new motorcycles — meaning, time for a COVID-19 course correction.

You may recall that Harley’s U.S. assembly plants and most of its dealers closed in March as part of a nationwide effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.  Currently, as many of the company’s 698 U.S. dealers make plans to reopen, Harley’s director of product sales, Beth Truett, stated in a memo, which was viewed by the WSJ, that about 70% of them likely wouldn’t receive any additional new motorcycles in 2020.

The motor company is pivoting from the “More Roads” plan to now focus efforts and energy to appeal to customers of premium-priced brands with limited availability.

Speaking of availability… By definition, excellence is scarce.  Harley-Davidson has leveraged “scarcity” previously. Underproduce motorcycles and limit distribution, which creates long waiting lists that in turn create an exclusivity mystique. Will it work again?

And speaking of premium positioning…

Harley-Davidson Eau de Toilette – Example of brand dilution!

Price alone won’t make a brand premium and few companies can thrive on limited market coverage and low volumes by commanding premium prices in a particular niche.  One thing is sure: motorcycle customers are price-sensitive, even if they are ready to pay a premium price for a … Harley lifestyle.

This means Harley-Davidson has to be able to truly earn the added value.

Data supports what we already know to be true about premium brands: people with lots of money buy nice things. Whether you’re talking apparel (i.e. Phat Farm, Polo, Timberland and Tommy Hilfiger), Tequila, hand bags (i.e. Gucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Prada), restaurants or footwear, it’s easy to recognize the pattern that the nicest, most expensive brands are favored by consumers with the highest household income. What is less obvious, are the fewer instances when wealthy people opt for the less-expensive, or when average-income people make deep trade-offs to purchase really pricey things.  There are a whole lot more average-income people than there are excessively wealthy ones.

Strong brands have a strong identity. Mediocrity doesn’t captivate or win the motorcycle sales race. There is a rule of thumb that says that a company ought to be able to explain its brand identity in seven words, give or take a couple.

The clock is ticking Harley-Davidson!

So, what is it about “premium-ness” brands that are able to inspire consumers to say “no” to some things so they can say “yes” to a brand that’s often or slightly out of financial reach? That’s the Harley-Davidson opportunity.  Finding the nooks and crannies to up-sell consumers on “premium-ness” choices—especially a candy coated brand in the top tier of the motorcycle pack.

The Harley downside risk is the “Porsche Effect“… becoming known as an SUV manufacturer that also produces a few sports car models rather than the premier sports car brand that also makes SUVs.

I’d like to better understand how Harley-Davidson can retain a premium brand identity if combustion engines, once the top tier of American motorcycle engineering, are being replaced by e-motors (LiveWire) that can be built by almost anyone, and if motorcycles feel and act like smartphones that you no longer even have to own?  It’s likely that the V-Twin motors of the future will no longer be a distinguishing brand characteristic.

New competitors are knocking on the Milwaukee door and customers are better informed, have tougher requirements and are able to interactively rate and influence companies and their products.

In the end, what Harley-Davidson claims about it’s premium brand doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not consumers believe it enough to pay more for it.

Photos courtesy of Twitter Bob Tita/WSJ and Harley-Davidson.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Jochen Zeitz with an electric Harley-Davidson LiveWire motorcycle – Photo Credit: Joshua Kurpings

He saved Puma. Now he’s going to fix the Harley-Davidson global business!

I’m talking about Jochen Zeitz, the interim Harley-Davidson CEO.

The motor company today announced that Zeitz has been appointed President and CEO, effective immediately. You might recall that Zeitz assumed the role back in February when Harley-Davidson ditched CEO Matt Levatich for years of disappointing sales.

Before we ratchet up turnaround enthusiasm of new leadership, it might be good to peel back a layer on the mysterious Mr. Zeitz.  I’ve written a detailed background post HERE.

It’s been my experience that business leadership works much differently during a turnaround transformation.  Managers are less able to rely on practices that previously insulated them from criticism. In addition, a traditional consumer goods company is research driven, and don’t typically decide on action until research tells them to change – but the reality is that research doesn’t always tell you what the consumer wants.

Let’s check out some of the Zeitz FACTS:

  • Zeitz is on a combat mission to make the Harley-Davidson business sustainable in a way that improves both society and the natural environment, and that creates economic growth.
  • Zeitz was the driving force behind Harley’s sustainability efforts and approved former CEO Matt Levatich’s desire to “bet the farm” on electric motorcycles.
  • It took 8-years and the work of a thousand engineers to fully realize the LiveWire, the company’s first electric model, that finally went on sale at $30K.
  • Among the entire Harley-Davidson board of directors, there’s a total of ZERO years of motorcycle industry experience.  Coincidentally, ZERO is the top manufacturer of electric motorcycles for the street and dirt.
  • No public (via Google search) photo exist of Zeitz riding a motorcycle, attending a motorcycle rally or HOG event.
  • At Kering, Zeitz was known as the “sustainability Taliban” — Kering employees characterized him as impatient and demanding unrealistic standards.
  • Lack of gender equality on the Harley-Davidson board, yet Zeitz has been a board director and influential member since 2007.
  • Zeitz history of working with unions is murky.  In China workers don’t have the right to Freedom of Association and Asia remains Harley’s strongest sourcing region
  • Zeitz gets the gist of enlightenment after a dialogue with Benedictine monk Anselm Grün – yeah, yeah, you let go of attachments, dissolve your ego, and then you get enlightened and write a book.

Let’s gain some additional insight of the Zeitz thinking from his previous statements; “My belief is that every company has an opportunity to innovate by creating business solutions for services or products that significantly reduce your impact and create more demand for your product.”  “Well, unless you are an extracting business. In that case, you’re a dinosaur and you’re dying.”  The solution is to marry sustainability with growth. “It’s a question of what we grow and how we grow, and how we can reduce our impact significantly and still grow,” he went on to say, “We have to grow within planetary boundaries.

Planetary boundaries?  Huh?

I’m as green as the next fuel/air motorcycle enthusiast, but I had to do a deep dive on this one…  It seems the 11,700-year-long Holocene epoch (“Age of Man”) is the only state of the Earth System (ES) that we know for certain can support contemporary human societies. The planetary boundary (PB) concept, introduced in 2009, aimed to define the environmental limits within which humanity can safely operate.  The planetary boundary (PB) framework contributes to such a paradigm by providing a science-based analysis of the risk that human perturbations will destabilize the Earth system (ES) at the planetary scale.

Whoa, this is heavy!

I would assume that in Harley-Davidson parlance and every day practice, this means that instead of making short-term profits that may incur costs later on (an obvious example being depleted resources leading to higher raw material prices, or social inequalities reducing at-work performances and purchasing power), businesses need to spread some of that growth to the wider world around them, for the sake of the planet – but also themselves.

Who would’ve thought… buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for the sake of the planet!

Zeitz might actually be on a path similar to Alfred Ford.  Currently known as Ambarish Das, he is a great-grandson of Henry Ford and heir to the Ford Motor Company who has converted his earthly consciousness to helping build the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur, which was largely funded by Ford’s $35M donation.

I don’t want to appear like I’m self-serving, but as you get gray hair in the beard you tend to focus the “More Roads” plan on which rides you are really trying to accomplish in life.  Maybe it’s time to published a memoir, meet-up in Alachua County, Florida and reflect in one of those “healing” pools.

I hope this transcendental awakening works out for Harley-Davidson.

Photo courtesy of Harley-Davidson.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Q1’20 Harley-Davidson Retail Motorcycle Sales + Motorcycles and Related Products Segment Results

Let’s jump right to that impressive Q1’20 financial result:

  • Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) posted earnings of $69.7 million compared with $127.9 million in the same period a year ago.
  • The dividend was slashed to 2 cents a share from 38 cents.
  • The motor company is in talks with major U.S. banks to secure $1.3 billion in liquidity.
  • Harley’s U.S. retail sales were down 15.5% compared with the same period a year ago.
  • International retail sales were down 20.7% compared with 2019.
  • Harley’s U.S. heavyweight motorcycle market segment share was down 2.2 percentage points, to 48.9%.

Another quarter, another poor performance from Harley-Davidson, though the market seemed to buy into the promise that this time it will be able to turn things around.

Déjà vu…

Management promising to fix things again by “crafting strategy accelerants” to deliver improved sales and better returns.  However, it admitted that its efforts thus far haven’t worked and also said it was “refining” the plans it had already devised, but it wouldn’t reveal how it was going to achieve them until this summer. Granted the financial problems Harley-Davidson encountered this quarter aren’t necessarily all of its own making, though it hasn’t helped itself along the way.

It’s important to note that the Harley-Davidson trends in the U.S. have been weak for years despite the economy being strong for so long. That is a major problem and the acting Harley-Davidson CEO, Jochen Zeitz, remains vague on what the motorcycle company is going to do to change that dynamic.

The “ReWire” Board

The fact that management chose the term “ReWire”, emphasizing the electric future to describe their refining plans reads like a satirical article in The Onion.  It’s as if CEO, Jochen Zeitz said, “I’ve heard some concerns going around, and I want to impress upon each and every one of you that I’m taking every possible step to ensure that we tap into a market that has traditionally been neglected by motorcycle manufacturers, Harley-Davidson is announcing a new line of motorcycles designed specifically for men.”

The “ReWire” plan consists of five main points:

  • Enhance core strengths and better balance expansion into new spaces.
  • Prioritize markets that matter.
  • Reset product launches and product line-up for simplicity and maximum impact.
  • Build the Parts & Accessories and General Merchandise businesses to their full potential.
  • Adjust and align the organisational structure, cost structure and operating model to reduce complexity and drive efficiency, to set Harley-Davidson up for stability and success.

The ReWire playbook abandons some of the previously ratified “More Roads” plan, but there is so much “CEO Speak” — “designed to address top priority opportunities, drive consistent execution and reset the company’s operating model in order to reduce complexity, sharpen focus and increase the speed of decision making.” — in that investor call its difficult to know what exactly remains “committed” to or what will stop.

Little is certain these days, but there’s one sure thing: in a situation where 30+ million people were laid off or furloughed in the past 6-weeks, people are definitely thinking about their wallets.  And living with ever-present, crushing uncertainty and the knowledge that people all around us are dying isn’t the stimulus to rush out and purchase a new motorcycle.

Let us face facts.  It’s going to be a different world for a while. After all, temperature checks, touch-less payments, masks, wipes, take-out and distancing were not part of the Harley experience before the March closures.

If Harley-Davidson is about anything, it’s about bringing people together. Lots of them. And really, really close — with motorcycle rallies, music festivals, HOG events and all the cross country rides.  Looking at you Sturgis!

The whirlwind of 400,000+ motorcycle enthusiasts half-hearted adherence to CDC guidelines, while gathering all week in a number of local bars, and eating VEGAN-burgers could be viewed as a controlled experiment to determine the virus’s true incubation rate.

I have some gray in my hair and beard, something you will see in a majority of Harley enthusiasts.  I find the idea of a Harley specifically aimed at men deeply patronizing.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Remember that outsider who kept Harley-Davidson on the road?

Keith E. Wandell (retired H-D CEO) grabbed the handlebars at the company in the heart of the economic crisis in 2009. Harley lost $55 million that year, as buying a motorcycle stopped being an option for many consumers.

Wandell made some big statements. “Don’t let Harley-Davidson become General Motors!” Look in a mirror, he told staff – Harley was already so far down that same path [as GM] “it wasn’t even funny.”

Wandell took bold action and made quick decisions to focused the company on doing what many say it does best: Making big, powerful, premium-priced cruisers.

Keith Wandell

Keep in mind, this was when the great recession and credit crisis sent shockwaves through Harley-Davidson. In less than one year, bike shipments dropped about 25 percent.

Wendell cut the workforce – at least 2,700 hourly workers and 840 administrative employees. The economy was in the tank, the motor company had a big union labor force and old manufacturing processes.  People were just churning and everything was upside down at the company.

Imagine…

I’m not talking about celebrities’ filming themselves singing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, from their multi-acre estates and whining about their COVID-19 pandemic isolation.  Never has disproportionate privilege been so apparent and I for one am really fed up with their self-serving need to be in the public spotlight with style-over-substance videos.

But, I digress…

Mark-Hans Richer

It is equally important to recall Wandell’s right-hand “stunt man” — you may remember him as that over-the-top marketing genius who had women screaming, grown men crying and Oprah jumping up and down, chanting: “Everybody gets a car!

I’m talking about Mark-Hans Richer, who was Sr. VP, Chief Marketing Officer at Harley-Davidson, prior to his 2015 departure. Granted, Richer is currently employed at Fortune Brands, but with the mass exodus at Harley-Davidson and salary decreases across the executive staff it’s plausible to pull him back into the H-D team.

Richer, generated the most bankable kind of publicity: controversy.  He made the difference between a motorcycle brand being a rock star versus more employees working in the rental lot.

He’s the charismatic dude that dropped a Dyna Super Glide on Pope Francis at the Vatican.  Then turned around at a press briefing and said, I would be really upset if you felt our strategy was about “meeting the nicest people on a Harley” because I can tell you that ain’t the strategy.  Later he pontificated that a Harley costs less than “another tattoo, a parking ticket, a gas station burrito, and a lip ring” in an appeal to what makes millennials tick.  In 2002, he helped the company get named Company of the Year by Forbes magazine.

110th Anniversary Celebration

In a university commencement speech, he stated: “Everything I ever learned from business, I learned from Willie the Wildcat stuffed animal,” a business he started right out of college.  Richer secured the first major worldwide sports sponsorship for Harley-Davidson at UFC and was instrumental in X-Games marketing.

No, I don’t have a man crush.

Richer was a key contributor of the “Ride Home” anniversary events.  Do you remember when returning to the mecca of motorcycling in Milwaukee was truly an EVENT i.e. the 110th Anniversary festivities featured 60 bands, including Aerosmith, Kid Rock and ZZ Top.  Remember that 3 ½-hour set by Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band at the 105th Anniversary?   How about when Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl, committed a major sin on stage by cracking open a Coors in Miller Town?

100th Anniversary Celebration

There was the surprise headliner (Elton John) and outright disaster for the centennial anniversary. Musical highlights included Billy Idol, Kid Rock, Joan Jett, Poison, REO Speedwagon, the Doobie Brothers and Tim McGraw for the 100th anniversary so, people booing and walking out might have been overstated in the media.

Then came 2018 and time to celebrate 115 years of the open road.  Harley-Davidson CMO, Heather Malenshek tells the media the event is all about returning to its roots with a focus on the motorcycle, not the entertainment.  Huh?!  It was an unmitigated flop for entertainment.  She very quietly departs the company in October 2019.  Coincidence?

Indian is challenging Harley’s cash cow, the Road Glide.  BMW has market segment share in the ADV or “adventure motorcycle” sector and recently introduced the new R 18 touring, cruiser configuration to compete head-on with Harley-Davidson and Indian.  Rumors started circulating recently that Honda is introducing a new 1100 Rebel to compete directly with Harley-Davidson.

Pan American

Harley needs more than anything a fast start for a new model to become a breakout hit.  Is that the Pan American, ADV?

The ADV segment is crowded and entrenched with BMW, Honda, KTM, and newcomer Ducati, among others with decades, of dirt-tested refinement.  Harley doesn’t have the luxury of burning up stacks of cash on a another “vanity project.”

The Milwaukee motor company has a very narrow window to establish that hit. Gone are the days when a slow seller can be nurtured into a hit.  Here’s looking at you LiveWire and the “Field of Dreams” marketing of distressed or stigmatized merchandise!  I truly wonder if acting president and CEO Jochen Zeitz or Harley-Davidson management really understand why the LiveWire product is failing?

It’s logically time to recall Mr. Wandell and “CMO head-honcho,” Richer back from spending their days taking lunch at the Polo Lounge and crank up the H-D buzz machine.

What the media’s hourly drumbeat of “panic porn” on the COVID-19 trauma has shown us, cannot be unseen.  A motorcycle-less Los Angeles.  Coyotes wandering on the empty Golden Gate Bridge.  A quiet New York, where you can hear the birds chirp in the middle of Madison Avenue.

We’re in it. Stores are closed. Restaurants are empty. Streets and multi-lane freeways are barren.  Body bags in tractor trailers.  The Oregon beach is an eerie ghost town.  The economy has collapsed and a devastated 22+ million Americans have lost their jobs in four weeks.  It’s a dark feeling of rust, rot and ruin.

Illegitimi non carborundum.” The Latin phrase loosely translates to, “Don’t let the [COVID] bastard get you down.”

Motorcycle enthusiasts are the ones who understand why dogs stick their heads out the window.  In the famous words of a previous H-D CEO, Jeffrey Bleustein, “We (Harley) have to pretend ten fiery demons are chasing us at all times,” and “make the right bikes, at the right time, and get them to the right place!

Let’s all take a deep breath and get ready for a potential Harley-Davidson tsunami. What is about to be unleashed will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again.  Every brand will come to our rescue, dear consumer, to help take away that darkness and get life back to the way it was before the crisis.

The great American return to normal is coming and you won’t be able to ignore that deafening motorcycle exhaust noise.

Photos taken by author and courtesy of Harley-Davidson and Wikipedia.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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According to a SEC, Form 8K filing, Harley-Davidson (i.e. acting CEO Jochen Zeitz) promoted Lawrence G. Hund to chief commercial officer and will be responsible for the global sales function including the company’s motorcycle Parts and Accessories, General Merchandise and Harley-Davidson Museum businesses effective today.

Hund will be responsible for building and supporting growth strategies, cultivating opportunities in new and existing markets, and increasing demand for Harley-Davidson products globally.

Lawrence G. Hund

I previously blogged about Mr. Hund back in 2009 when H-D re-hired him HERE.  He returned to Harley-Davidson from Tygris Commercial Finance Group, Inc. where he worked only 8-months as its Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

Mr. Hund is 64, and has been the President and Chief Operating Officer of Harley-Davidson Financial Services (HDFS), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Harley-Davidson, Inc. since 2009.

Jonathan Root, 46, vice president of insurance at HDFS, will be promoted to senior vice president of HDFS and take over Hund’s previous role.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson and SEC

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“Top-Dogs” Existing Harley-Davidson

Companies often don’t announce their troubles in advance — it’s a strategy that prevents mass exodus. But, when “top dogs” start leaving a company in packs, it’s probably time for you to consider the same.

The latest Harley-Davidson departure is senior vice president and chief operating officer Michelle Kumbier. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Harley-Davidson did not disclose a reason for her departure, which is set for April 3rd.

For Harley-Davidson workers, the question of whether—and how long—to stick with a beleaguered employer is one that hits plenty of people at one time or other. Deciding whether to stay or go is always a tough call, and compounding the decision this year is that COVID-19 is an equal opportunity offender for job displacement.

A number of high-ranking executives have left Harley-Davidson in the span of six months:

  • October 2019 — Neil Grimmer was removed from his post as president of global brand development following an investigation that the company said showed violations of the company’s code of conduct.
  • October 2019 — Heather Malenshek, who was chief marketing officer and senior vice president, marketing and brand, left the company.
  • November 2019 — Paul Jones left his role as vice president, chief legal officer, chief compliance officer and secretary of Harley-Davidson.
  • February 2020 — president and CEO Matt Levatich announces his departure, but the hedge fund, Impala, stated he was fired by the board.
  • March 2020 — senior vice president and chief operating officer Michelle Kumbier leaves the company.

The motor company announced that Bryan Niketh has been promoted to senior vice president of product and operations and will assume Kumbier’s former responsibilities. Kumbier’s global sales responsibilities as chief operating officer will be assumed by acting president and CEO Jochen Zeitz.  In addition, assistant general counsel Paul Krause, who has been serving as interim chief legal officer, has been hired for the role permanently.

Harley’s drip, drip, drip of declining sales is well-trodden media territory.  If negative media coverage is unrelenting, the business stands little chance of bouncing back very soon.

I’m not going to pretend that this is easy stuff, especially given all the uncertainty. The lockdown situations in the U.S. and abroad in markets like Italy, Spain and France, will clearly impact Harley’s production and sales.  And after lifting a two-month or more lockdown are there going to be any buyers if there is a sharp recession or are people going to curtail their discretionary spending given “respectful exits” and the economic consequences?

Harley-Davidson needs to nail the fundamentals and it’s now more important than ever to continue to develop and produce amazing new products.

Photos credit: Patrick J. Endres

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Harley-Davidson’s Entrepreneur and New Mastermind

Jochen Zeitz — Harley-Davidson interim President and CEO

The ultimate maverick has been hired to preserve and renew the freedom to ride.

I’m talking about Jochen Zeitz — the entrepreneur and new mastermind in charge of Harley-Davidson until he is offered the position permanently or a recruitment committee finds a replacement CEO.

So, what do we know and who is this man?

Jochen Zeitz at Segera Retreat Lodge

As a slacker who would debate a good life is better than a good job, paint me truly inspired for that list of accomplishments!

Talk about an extreme producer with a missionary zeal!  And, I haven’t mentioned the best part… a profile of his “day job” achievements.

Mr. Zeitz represents qualities too good to be true and the idea of him shilling for some corporation to hawk motorcycles deflates the “HERO” excitement.  It’s clear, Mr. Zeitz won’t be satisfied until he has done everything to promote his vision of a new, better world.

LiveWire — Jochen Zeitz — Milwaukee, WI

With his multi-millions in fortune, Jochen Zeitz is likely the richest person in history to run Harley-Davidson as interim president and CEO.

So, again, who is the 57-year old sandy-haired, 6’1’’ athletic build of a man?

Mr. Zeitz was born in Mannheim, Germany, in 1963, to a gynecologist father and dentist mother.  He grew up in a time when the Green Party and the anti-nuclear movement were enjoying strong support in Germany.  Along with the time he spent at the family’s lodge in the Odenwald forest, the outdoor exposure planted seeds of interest in environmentalism.  He was educated at Karl-Friedrich Gymnasium, Mannheim, south-west Germany, and then international marketing and finance at the European Business School of Oestrich-Winkel near Wiesbaden.

Jochen Zeitz and wife Kate Garwood

Mr. Zeitz began his professional career with Colgate-Palmolive in Hamburg in 1986. He then moved to Herzogenaurach in the Franconian countryside to work for sporting goods manufacturer Puma (Bio) in 1988. From there, he rose rapidly though the ranks to become head of marketing in 1991 and vice president — international and head of the global marketing and sales department.  In 1993, at the age of 30, he became chairman of the board of Puma, making him the youngest CEO of German firms with commercially traded stock. He dramatically reduced staff numbers, took production to Asia, made English the corporate language, started sponsoring African football teams and was credited with turning around the near-bankrupt business into one of the world’s top three sports brands.

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) — Cape Town

In 2003, he insightfully signed 16-year-old future Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt to Puma.  In 2007, he was appointed to the Board of Harley-Davidson.

Puma was acquired by luxury goods conglomerate Kering in 2007, and a few years later Mr. Zeitz served as Kering’s Chief Sustainability Officer.  In 2011, he set up a sustainability committee for Harley-Davidson, which he also chaired.

Also in 2011, he wanted to step back and focus on his environmental work and resigned as CEO of Puma.  He became a director of parent company Kering and chairman of the group’s sustainability committee.  He co-founded ‘The B Team’ with Sir Richard Branson in 2013.  That same year he launched the Kenyan Segera Retreat with a focus on his foundation’s 4C philosophy for sustainable tourism.

In 2020, he was hungry for something much more and became Harley-Davidson’s interim president and CEO.

Jochen Zeitz — 1929 Gypsy Moth Airplane Photo credit: Eric M Rojas

On a personal level — he divorced his first wife Birgit Jöris in 2012 following an 18-year marriage.  He is currently married to LA-based producer Kate Garwood‚ 41‚ producer of the 2016 movie “Race”‚ about U.S. track star Jesse Owens.  They have two children; 4-year old Jesse born September 2017 and a three year old. He keeps homes in Switzerland, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, a 50,000-acre ranch in Kenya and has property in west London.

When researching material for this blog post, I was blown-away on the amount of information published about Mr. Zeitz.

In a 2013 interview with the International Bar Association, he stated no plans to marry again, although at the time he was in a long term relationship with Kate Garwood. He was adamant about no intention of having children. ‘No, definitely not,’ he stated emphatically. ‘Never say never, but it’s very unlikely. It’s not something that fits with my daily life and I’ve never believed that having children without a father around is a good idea. It’s not really something I would get excited about.’  Just a short four years later both occur.

Jochen Zeitz at Segera, his 50,000-acre ranch. Photo credit: David Crookes

In recent press interviews, he’s stated the joy of his decision to have children late in life, because now he can see them grow up versus having such a busy schedule in running a company and traveling for 10 months in a year.  An interesting side bar: Speculation swirled that Jesse, their first child, was named after the 1930s athlete and fueled by the fact that Jessie Owens was provided with shoes for the 1936 Olympics by the Dassler brothers‚ who went on to found Adidas and Puma. 

But, I’ve digressed and want to return to connecting the Harley-Davidson dots… Mr. Zeitz’s experience at Kering was a critical influence and the driving force behind Matt Levatich’s (the recently fired Harley-Davidson CEO) pivot to sustainability that led him to think much more about environmental profit and loss at Harley-Davidson.  Mr. Zeitz had devised an environmental profit-and-loss account method at Kering which, put a figure on what a company’s air pollution, land use, water use and carbon consumption cost the planet.

Jochen Zeitz’s Favorite Thing — A Scottish Bailey — Photo credit: Charlotte Haden

While Mr. Zeitz — wealthy, world-view philosophy, competitive, over-achiever and relatively young — has the luxury of carving out grandiose, acronym-fueled sustainable ‘visions’, that struggling businesses like Harley-Davidson, desperate to increase motorcycle sales, might find distracting or even an irritant.

We’ll have to read the biography when ex-CEO Levatich publishes the book, but as an outside observer, one distraction example is: it took eight years, millions of dollars and the work of over a thousand engineers to fully realize a product that few want — the Harley-Davidson LiveWire — the Milwaukee company’s first premium electric motorcycle to go on sale in September 2019.  As a long-serving Harley-Davidson board member, Mr. Zeitz convinced executive management to focus not just on the moral justification for electric engines, but on the needs of Harley-Davidson customers to have healthy natural landscapes in which to ride. The logic behind this claim, was that “what every rider loves about the ride – it’s the environment they’re riding in, isn’t it?”  Soon afterward, the marketing and brand alignment teams marched in unison to support sustainability as a major part of the brand.

Segera Retreat — Laikipia, Kenya

The result?  A new mission, twisting the brand’s historic celebration of freedom into a desire “to preserve and renew the freedom to ride” and TWELVE quarters of sales decline.  Along with a $2,152,500 million severance payment to Matt Levatich.

Mr. Zeitz believes and is on record, stating there is more to corporate life than the relentless pursuit of profit. Wait, what?!  Isn’t profit what got Matt Levatich fired?

I’ve watched “An Inconvenient Truth” and the sequel. The oceans are heating and the poles melting, but color me skeptical of environmental groups with sustainable-for profit-business interests.  We’re all too aware of what the world needs: another multi-millionaire telling others how to behave better once they have made their own fortune while flying private and choppering into a rich man’s playground.

Jochen Zeitz GQ Article — in German

The motor-head scholars, bankers, real estate agents, lawyers and fashion designers who gather not to drink cheap brew, but to sip $15 “born to be wild” martinis and straddle $40,000 motorcycles might pontificate on the value of sustainability, but I just don’t see grizzled leather-clad loyalists describing Harley-Davidson as the world’s most sustainable manufacture over a beer at the Sturgis rally.

But, sometimes there’s a man. I won’t say a hero – ’cause what’s a hero? – but sometimes there’s a man – and I’m talking about Jochen Zeitz here – sometimes there’s a man who, well, he’s the man for the time and place.

A man who will improve the brand that is unique, exciting and one that gives value to it’s riding customers.

But wait, there’s more… An incentive if he kicks a field goal… according to the company 8-K regulatory filing, the interim Harley-Davidson, CEO Jochen Zeitz, is eligible and will receive a $3 million bonus (in the form of restricted stock units (RSU’s)) that would vest one year after the grant date and become payable if his employment continues to the date of the installation of a new CEO.  That $3 million would come on top of the annual base salary of $2.5 million he is receiving now after taking over for Matt Levatich. I don’t think this will be too difficult since Mr. Zeitz has served on Harley-Davidson’s board since 2007.

UPDATED: April 17, 2020 — Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and sales impact, Harley-Davidson announced that its acting president and CEO Jochen Zeitz and the company’s board of directors would forgo any salary or cash compensations. As mentioned above, Zeitz currently has an annual base salary of $2.5 million.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson, Jochen Zeitz, Twitter, Eric M Rojas, David Crookes, and Charlotte Haden

Information Source & References: IBA, Independent,Wired,Business Daily Africa, Milwaukee Business Journal, Adventure Rider, Infosys, Telegraph, Financial Times, Angama Blog

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Matthew S. Levatich — Ex Harley-Davidson President and CEO

Harley-Davidson, Inc. announced yesterday that Matthew Levatich has stepped down as President and CEO and as a member of the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors appointed current Board member Jochen Zeitz as interim President and CEO following the abrupt resignation of Levatich.  A search committee is being formed, and the Company will utilize an external search firm to undertake the process to find a new CEO. The press release also stated that Levatich would assist with the transition through the end of March.

Levatich had a 26-year career at Harley-Davidson with the last five years as President and CEO. The abrupt departure marks 5-years of sliding sales and the value of the Milwaukee motor company has been cut in half.  It was not a cheerful week at Harley-Davidson!

The board and the CEO share responsibility for corporate performance, so it stands to reason that when a CEO fails, the board has failed as well.  I would speculate the company board is reacting to pressure from shareholders and seeks to appease investors in the short term by handing them the CEO’s head on a platter.  The investment community will want a replacement CEO who’s both promising and reassuring—and they’ll want him fast.

Jochen Zeitz — Harley-Davidson interim President and CEO

If we were to step into a time-machine and journey back to the future… from the V-Rod to the Buell Blast. Who can forget the MV Agusta dumpster fire and in the parlance of our time, there is now a green machine— LiveWire—a motorcycle short on juice, and one that few people want or can afford to buy.  Harley’s attempts to branch out has with out a doubt shown mixed results, at best.  In fact, some observers wonder if the company is “asleep at the switch.”

It would seem that “seeing the problem is easier than fixing it!”  Levatich’s mantra that Harley-Davidson doesn’t build motorcycles, it builds riders, always seemed a bit odd.  That’s like saying, “It’s not about horsepower, but more ideas per horsepower.”  Or “we don’t build motorcycles, we’re a lifestyle merchant company.” It’s that line of reasoning which is nice for marketing collateral, but when you actually dissect its meaning, it’s a  “wait, huh?” moment.

Harley-Davidson Five-Year Sales Slump

Levatich was promoted when Harley announced in February 2015 that he would succeed Keith E. Wandell as President and CEO of Harley-Davidson, Inc. upon Wandell’s retirement on May 1st.

You might even recall that back in August 2008, Matt Levatich, who at that time was vice president and general manager of parts and accessories and custom vehicle operations (CVO), was named managing director of its newly acquired premium Italian motorcycle company MV Agusta Group.  I blogged about this $108 million acquisition being a train wreck (Go Italian) back in 2008.  That deal was heavily promoted as a major part of Harley’s bid to increase its presence in Europe, where it had seen sales grow in the double digits the previous three years, offsetting weaker performance in the US.  The $108 million included $69 million paid to erase MV’s debts and included the Cagiva brand.

Just 14 months later, the Milwaukee “jetsetters” revealed during the Q3’09 financial results, the motor company would divest from the Italian national symbol of motorcycling and the real gut punch was—they would discontinue the Buell® product line.  I don’t recall seeing a lot of MV Agusta T-shirts, coffee and dog collars so, I guess it wasn’t a good fit.  Unfortunately, Levatich will go down in the motorcycle history books as the man that shut down Buell.  Granted the previous CEO, Keith E. Wandell, started unwinding the process caught up in the axel, but Levatich concluded the 16-years of collaboration.  It never added up as a smart business decision and every time I go back and research the articles and press releases it sounds more like someone had a vendetta they wanted to settle.

It’s my view that the blame for Harley-Davidson’s poor results lies squarely with the board of directors!

Poor performing companies don’t get that way because of any single decision or for that matter any single leader. Patterns of historical decisions, strategic neglect, and misallocation of resources all contribute to the deterioration in performance; some contributing factors may even lie outside the company’s control—looking at you tariffs!

Typically a CEO is dismissed not because the board has thoughtfully and deliberately concluded that it’s time for a change at the top, but because investors, concerned about poor performance, demand a change.

Let’s hope Mr. Zeitz and the board of directors have a blueprint for success.

UPDATED: March 1, 2020 — added sales chart and text on length of Levatich career.

UPDATED: March 4, 2020 — According to the company’s 8-K regulatory filing on Monday, March 2nd, Levatich will receive a severance in line with the company executive severance plan.  The company’s 2019 proxy statement states; top company officers will receive a cash severance of 24 months of base salary and 18 months continuation of certain employee benefits, such as life insurance, medical, dental, vision, as well as outplacement and financial planning benefits, if employment is terminated for reasons other than for cause.  The Milwaukee motor company had 12 previous quarters of sales decline, and Levatich’s severance payment will be $2,152,500.  Assuming a 2018 base salary of $1,076,250.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson.  Sales chart courtesy of Bloomberg news.

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