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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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CEO’s That Made Harley-Davidson

Recently it was reported that the typical CEO at the biggest U.S. companies received an 8.5 percent raise last year, taking in $11.5 million in salary, stock and other compensation, according to a study by executive data firm Equilar for the Associated Press.

Over the last 5-years, median CEO pay has jumped by 19.6 percent not accounting for inflation.  That’s nearly double the 10.9 percent rise in the typical weekly paycheck for full-time employment across the country.

It could be, but this isn’t a rant about the typical line worker vs. CEO wage-gap.

If we’re being intellectually honest, CEOs today are required to master a broader range of skills than in the past, when top executives might have climbed the ranks with just one discipline. Companies are bigger, more global and increasingly complicated, and there’s accelerating competition in countries such as China, India and Brazil. Executives must also adapt to quicker technological change, including shifts brought on by autonomous driving, electric vehicles and the widening use of mobile devices.  And then there is the Board, and the increasing requirement that CEOs push their stock price ever higher to collect their maximum possible payout.

So, who are those CEOs at Harley-Davidson, that made Harley-Davidson?  Below is a historical snapshot of the motor company leadership:

Jochen Zeitz — Credit: Liam Sharp

Jochen Zeitz — born in Mannheim, Germany, the 57-year old was appointed May 7, 2020 as President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Zeitz served as Acting President and CEO since February 2020 when the previous CEO, Matt Levatich resigned. Zeitz also continues to serve as Chairman of the Board.

For more background please see this post.

Prior to being named Chairman, Acting President and CEO in February, Zeitz was a member of the Harley-Davidson Board of Directors since 2007 and established the Company’s Brand and Sustainability Committee. He served as Chairman and CEO of Puma for eighteen years from 1993 to 2011 and was also PUMA’s CFO from 1993 to 2005. Zeitz remained Chairman of Puma after being appointed CEO of the Sport and Lifestyle division at luxury goods company Kering (formerly PPR) from 2011 to 2012. He then served as a director on Kering’s Board of Directors from 2012-2016.

He also sits on the boards of financial services company Cranemere, and the Kenya Wildlife Service, as well as running his own charitable foundation (The Zeitz Foundation) and co-chairing The B Team, a non-profit that he co-founded with Richard Branson in 2012 to promote sustainable business practices. He has won the Financial Times Strategist of the Year award three times, been awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit, and co-authored two books – one of which, a dialogue with Benedictine monk Anselm Grün called The Manager and the Monk: A Discourse on Prayer, Profit and Principles, has been translated into 15 languages.

About fifteen years ago, he started his own business – Segera, a 50,000-acre luxury resort retreat on the Laikipia plateau in Kenya’s central highlands.  In addition, Zeitz launched other projects in Africa: The Zeitz Collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora; the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, a complex of 100 galleries in a 1920s granary in Cape Town converted by Thomas Heatherwick, which houses work from both its own and Zeitz’s collections: and The Long Run, which rates sustainable tourism projects according to Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce (4Cs).

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, the ranch in Kenya and has property in west London.  One would also assume he now has a home in Milwaukee!  His favorite thing is a Scottish Bailey.

Matthew S. Levatich

Matthew S. Levatich — Resigned on February 28, 2020 after a 26-year career at Harley-Davidson with the last 5-years as CEO.  For more info see this post HERE.

Harley-Davidson promoted Levatich to President/CEO in May 2015 when Keith E. Wandell retired.  Mr. Levatich was named COO during CEO Keith Wandell’s tenure.

Mr. Levatich, joined Harley-Davidson in 1994. Prior to becoming COO in May 2009, he held wide-ranging roles in the U.S. and Europe. Those roles included Vice President and General Manager of Harley-Davidson’s Parts and Accessories business, Vice President of Materials Management, and President and Managing Director of the Company’s former MV Agusta business. In addition to an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Levatich holds a graduate degree in engineering management and an MBA from Northwestern University. He has served on the board of directors of Emerson, a St. Louis-based global manufacturing and technology company, since 2012.

Mr. Levatich is known as an avid rider and an engineer, that demonstrates a clear vision for the company and talks constantly about focus and alignment and helping the organization remain clear on what it is they’re here to do.  No longer is the motor company the “voice of the executive” rather it’s the “voice of the customer.

Interestingly, Harley-Davidson has evolved from platform teams. Dyna platform, Softail platform, which was largely modeled like the automotive industry. Each platform team was competing for the next big capital investment so they could say now it’s Dyna’s turn to have a major refresh. Or now it’s Softail’s turn. Or now it’s Touring’s turn.  And that doesn’t exist anymore.

In an interview with Cycle World Mr. Levatich stated: “We’re not really in the business of manufacturing motorcycles. We’re in the business of building customers.”  

Keith Wandell

Keith Wandell —  hired from Johnson Controls to serve as Harley-Davidson President/CEO in 2009 — retired May 1, 2015 — only 6-years later.

Credited for leading Harley-Davidson back to profitability by cutting jobs and making its production more efficient he transformed manufacturing through a restructuring plan that generated more than $300 million in annual savings.

Mr. Wandell cut millions of dollars in costs and eliminated several thousand jobs in the manufacturing plants. He brought a sense of urgency to the company, saying he did not want it to be like General Motors and the auto industry that had fallen into deep trouble.

Under his leadership, Harley made significant gains in reaching new customers through growth in international markets and sales to “outreach” segments in the U.S., including young adults, women, African-Americans and Hispanics.  Mr. Wandell also was credited with stoking excitement for a planned electric bike, called Project LiveWire.

Mr. Wandell has been the Non-Executive Chairman of Dana Incorporated since October 27, 2016 and served as its Interim Chairman from September 9, 2016 to October 27, 2016.

James Ziemer

James Ziemer — served as President/CEO from 2005-2009.  Retired in 2009.  Mr. Ziemer is a native Milwaukeean who grew up in the neighborhood next to Harley-Davidson’s original Milwaukee factory location on the city’s west side.

He started with the motor company in 1969 as a freight elevator operator while attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He worked at Harley-Davidson for 40 years.  Upon earning his undergraduate degree in accounting at UWM, he joined the accounting department where he spent the majority of his career. He was named the Company’s Chief Financial Officer in 1990. In 2005, he was named President and Chief Executive Officer of Harley-Davidson.  When he retired, employees presented Mr. Ziemer with the original wood doors from the freight elevator he operated when he first was hired at Harley-Davidson.

As a sidebar, also in 2009, eleven years after being bought by Harley-Davidson, Erik Buell leaves the company to establish Erik Buell Racing.

Jeffrey L. Bleustein

Jeffrey L. Bleustein — retired as Chairman of the Board of Harley-Davidson in April 2009.  He was Chairman from December 1998 to April 25, 2009.  Previously, he served as CEO from June 1997 to April 2005.

He served at Brunswick Corp in many capacities and was President of Trihawk, Inc., a subsidiary of Harley-Davidson, 1984 to 1985. Remember Trihawks?

Mr. Bleustein was a technology consultant with American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF).  In 1969, AMF merged with Harley-Davidson and in 1975, AMF assigned him to help reorganize Harley-Davidson engineering operations.  Led by AMA Hall of Famer Vaughn Beals Jr., and 11 other Harley-Davidson executives (including Willie G. Davidson), Bleustein helped execute an $81.5 million leveraged buyout of the company from AMF on June 16, 1981.

To commemorate the buy-back, approximately two dozen company officers, along with their wives and select motorcycle press, made a cross-country motorcycle trek from the production facilities in York, PA to Harley-Davidson’s main offices on Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee. This 900-mile independence journey was also a ride to support the Muscular Dystrophy Association, now the official charity of Harley Owners Group (HOG). The ride followed a host of ceremonies at York which included the signing of documents that marked the ownership change, and pulling the first “new Harley-Davidson” motorcycle off the assembly line. This 4-day celebration began a new chapter in the company’s “new” future.

Mr. Bleustein was responsible for notable engineering innovations which included the rubber engine mounts, redesign of the V-Twin and introduction of the Kevlar drive belts.

During Mr. Bleustein’s tenure (circa: 1998), Harley-Davidson bought Buell Motorcycle Company and named founder Eric Buell Chairman of Buell Operations. The first Buell’s hit showrooms in late 1999.

Rich Teerlink

Rich Teerlink  — served as Chairman and CEO until 1999 at Harley-Davidson until he retired.  Mr. Teerlink joined Harley-Davidson in August 1981 as CFO where he enjoyed great success over his 18-year career.  He started with the company just two months after the group of 13 Harley-Davidson managers had bought the company from its then parent company, American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF), in a leveraged buyout.

Mr. Teerlink’s greatest accomplishment was establishing the Harley Owners Group (HOG) in 1983.  Mr. Teerlink joined the Vertex Board in 2002, and while serving on the Vertex Board, he also served on the Boards of Johnson Controls, Snap-on Tools and Quad Graphics.

Mr. Teerlink is also a notable author of More Than a Motorcycle, The Leadership Journey at Harley Davidson book.  Mr. Teerlink retired from the Vertex Board of Directors, effective February 4, 2015.

Mr. Teerlink was inducted to the AMA Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 2015.  Mr. Teerlink was awarded an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Laws from Marquette University on May 22, 2005.

Vaughn L. Beals Jr.

Vaughn L. Beals Jr. — served as CEO of Harley-Davidson from 1981-1989 and as Chairman from 1981-1996.

In June 1981, it was a challenging time as American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF) wanted to cut and run, but no one wanted to buy a company with a limited line of high-priced, obsolete products and a reputation for unreliability.  Vaughn Beals Jr., and 13-other** Harley-Davidson executives (including Willie G. Davidson), led an $81.5 million leveraged buyout of the company from American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF).

Mr. Beals previously served as a research engineer for North American Aviation and Cummins Engine Company where he negotiated the purchase of logging equipment manufacturer Formac International as he was a minority owner and CEO.  This proved to be valuable during the AMF Harley-Davidson buyout.  He was named Harley-Davidson CEO after the buy-out option.

In 1982, the motor company won an anti-dumping judgment from the International Trade Commission (ITC). This led then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan to impose additional tariffs on imported heavyweight Japanese models, as allowed by the ITC.  The additional tariffs–45 percent on top of an existing 4.4 percent measure–were meant to decrease gradually over five years, until April 1988.

In June 1986, Harley-Davidson went public with a stock offering to raise capital to help pay off the buy-out option.  This was very successful increasing share price from $11 to $24.  Harley-Davidson  used some of the stock sale revenues to buy Holiday Rambler, a U.S. maker of recreational vehicles, for $150 million.  The Holiday Rambler sale pushed Harley-Davidson into the Fortune 500 category for the first time at number 398.  In March 1987 the company asked the ITC to remove the tariffs imposed on Japanese motorcycle imports a year earlier than scheduled.

Willie G. Davidson, V.P. Styling (Left); Vaughn Beals Jr., CEO and Charles Thompson, President (Right)

Mr. Beals was inducted to the AMA Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 2008.

Charles Thompson — served as President and CEO of the restructured Harley-Davidson after American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF) buy-out option.

Mr. Thompson was a long-time Harley-Davidson employee, well-liked throughout the motorcycle industry and served as president and CEO of the restructured company until his health failed in 1982.

William Herbert “Bill” Davidson — was president of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles from 1942 to 1971.  He was the son of William A. Davidson who quit his regular paying job with the Milwaukee Road railroad in 1903 to get into the business of making motorcycles.

William Herbert “Bill” Davidson

Bill Davidson, started working on the Harley-Davidson shop floor of the family business in 1928 after attending the University of Wisconsin.  He won the AMA National Enduro Championship in 1930 and when he wasn’t winning motorcycle races, Bill worked his way up through the company, becoming a foreman, manager of many departments, and finally president of Harley-Davidson in 1942.

In 1963, Bill brought in his son William Godfrey Davidson (Willie G.) on to head up the styling department of the company. Willie G. would end up creating some of the company’s more popular designs, including the legendary Low Rider and the Super Glide which was inspired by the ideas of bike customizers.

In 1965 Harley-Davidson went public as the two families decided to give up control and put the company’s shares on the market.

In 1969, Harley-Davidson was bought by American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF), a leisure equipment manufacturer.  The arrangement proved, at least initially, to be a good one for Harley-Davidson, for it was in the mid-1960s that the company experienced its first real competition after Indian went out of business. The financial resources and stability that AMF was able to provide helped the company battle Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, who had begun exporting their vehicles around the world, placing themselves in direct competition with Harley-Davidson.

Bill stayed on as president under the control of AMF reporting to it’s then current chairman and CEO Rodney C. Gott (Mr. Gott served as AMF president, starting in 1962, and chairman and chief executive, from 1968. He retired in 1978).  Mr. Gott was a Harley-Davidson rider and big motorcycle fan.  As a sidebar: In World War II, Mr. Gott was a decorated veteran who served in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army and on the staff of Gen. Lesley James McNair, chief of ground forces, and was also commander of the 79th Infantry Division Artillery.

In 1971, Bill Davidson was made Harley-Davidson chairman, but reported that he had little power while under AMF’s control.  It was noted that he was chairman of the Harley-Davidson board that never met.  Conflicts with AMF’s strategy and chaotic market conditions led to Bill Davidson’s resignation in 1973.

It was a period of high CEO turnover at Harley-Davidson.  During this time, AMF named John O’Brian and then Gus Davis as president, marking the first time someone other than a Davidson would sit in the company presidents chair.  Other Harley and Davidson family members continued on at the company under AMF’s ownership.  Bill Davidson’s son John was vice president of Sales, and then moved up to become president after Gus Davis.  William J. Harley was engineering vice president until his death in 1971.  His brother John Harley remained at the company until his death in 1976 as the last Harley at Harley-Davidson.

In 1975, AMF put Vaughn Beals Jr. at the head of Harley-Davidson, and Jeff Bleustein was named chief engineer. Bleustein was charged with making manufacturing improvements, which had  become increasingly necessary as production grew and quality declined.  A limited line of high-priced products and a reputation for unreliable motorcycles marked this timeframe in history.  AMF began to lose interest in keeping the struggling motorcycle business afloat.

Rodney C. Gott (Left) and John Davidson, President Harley-Davidson

In a bit of irony, (circa: 09/1977), the motor company unveiled a motorcycle museum in York, PA., that was named after AMF’s CEO — Rodney C. Gott Motorcycle Museum.  A video HERE.

In June 1981, to save the company, and to effect a turnaround, thirteen Harley-Davidson executives, led by Vaughn Beals Jr., put together a plan for a leveraged management buyout. With the financial support of Citicorp, the management team succeeded in taking control of Harley-Davidson from AMF on June 16, 1981, at a cost of $81.5 million.

The role of the new officers after the company buy-out option included: Charles Thompson, president and chief operating officer; Jack Hamilton, Chris Sartalis, Jim Paterson, Kurt Woerpel, Peter Profumo, Jeffrey Bleustein, Thomas Gelb, William Davidson, and Tim Hoelter, all vice presidents. The president of the various divisions were: John Davidson, golf; David Caruso, parts and accessories; Ralph Swenson, York; and David Lickerman, Harley-Davidson International.

Even though he was no longer actively involved with the company, Bill Davidson lived to see the renewal and success that Harley-Davidson enjoyed starting in the late-1980s.

Bill Davidson died in 1993.  He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 1999.

Walter Davidson — was president from 1907 to 1942.  Bill Harley was chief engineer and treasurer. Author Davidson is secretary and general sales manager and William A. Davidson is the works manager.

In 1936, six sons of the founders are working at Harley-Davidson.  Walter Davidson’s sons Gordon and Walter C.; and William Davidson’s sons, William Herbert “Bill” and Allan; and Bill Harley’s sons, William J. and John.

In 1942 from his death bed,  Walter Davidson named his nephew William Herbert “Bill” Davidson as president and his own eldest son Gordon, as vice president of manufacturing.

Historical Principal H-D Subsidiaries: Holiday Rambler Corporation; Utilmaster Corporation; B&B Molders; Creative Dimensions; Nappanee Wood Products.

Article References:

Vaughn Beals Jr. – Wikipedia
Growing Up Harley-Davidson – Jean Davidson
Harvard Business Review – Harley Leadership U-Turn
Jeffrey Bleustein – Wikipedia
The Morning Call – Harley Is A Classic Turnaround Story
Rodney C. Gott Obituary
Gus Davis Obituary
Cycle World Magazine – Interview with CEO, Matthew S. Levatich
Cycle World Magazine – Rodney C. Gott Motorcycle Museum
Chicago Tribune – The Real Harley-Davidson Story
James Ziemer – Northwest Harley Blog
People – Buy Back Article
Rick Barrett – Journal Sentinel
Richard Benson – Wired UK

Harley-Davidson (Buyout) Management Team

**The Harley-Davidson managers post buy-out option: left to right standing: John Hamilton, Dr. Jeffrey Bleustein, Kurt Woerpel, Chstopher Sartalis, and William G. Davidson.  Left to right, seated: James Peterson, Timothy Hoelter, David Lickerman, Peter Profumo, David Caruso, Ralph Swenson, Charles Thompson, and Vaughn Beals Jr.

 

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson

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Kingfisher-LogoI’m talking about Kingfisher.

Beer was introduced into India by the British, who eventually set up a brewery that produced Asia’s first beer — a pale ale called Lion. However, these days, lager is the only type of beer you’ll find available in India and “The King of Good Times” is Kingfisher.

It’s India’s most recognized and widely available beer. Its name has been associated with sports, fashion, and even an airline.

And sooner than anyone would have thought… in Bawal, India a Harley-Davidson assembly line worker will be having a Kingfisher and relaxing with co-workers.

But, I’ve gotten ahead of myself…  let’s jump into the the way back machine and set the dial for — 2009.

The fact is we must focus both our effort and our investment on the Harley-Davidson brand, as we believe this provides an optimal path to sustained, meaningful long-term growth,” said CEO Keith Wandell at the October 15, 2009 announcement to discontinue production of Buell motorcycles.  On October 30, 2009 the last Buell (Lightning XB12Scg) rolled off the company’s East Troy, Wisconsin. assembly line.  It was the last of the 136,923 motorcycles built in the company’s 26 years of operation.

Harley-Davidson Street 750

Harley-Davidson Street 750

It was a combination of factors in making the decision, but essentially the global recession forced a reckoning and Harley-Davidson decided to refocus on its tent pole products or what I’d call doubling down on its core lineup of heavyweight bikes.  As a result, the motor company abandoned entry level motorcycles (Buell Blast), exited the sport bike (Buell and sold MV) and thumb their noses at the adventure market (Buell Ulysses).   In the process the motor company made a lot of motorcycle enthusiasts upset about what looked like a myopic approach of only looking at spreadsheets versus doing a bit more market research and addressing a need.

Jump ahead 4-years and witness the financial rebound of the company and the launch this week of the new Harley-Davidson Street 750 and Street 500 motorcycles.  Could it be a Buell Blast ReDeux?  The smaller 500cc motorcycle basically fills a void left when they discontinued the Buell motorcycle line which included the 492cc Buell Blast.  More important in this announcement is the fact that the motorcycles will be made both in the U.S. and Bawal, India, marking the first time the company will manufacture a complete motorcycle at an overseas facility.  I’ll repeat that… the first time the company will manufacture a complete motorcycle outside the U.S.!

Harley-Davidson Street 750  (Side View)

Harley-Davidson Street 750 (Side View)

The manufacturing news in of itself will be fodder for many future blog posts, but sticking to the motorcycle announcement, the new ‘Street’ bikes are the first Harley-Davidson motorcycles to be designed from scratch since the V-Rod 13 years ago.

It makes this Road Glide owner wonder if that’s an indicator of where all the engineers were redirected in lieu of updating the ‘Glide’ with the all new Project RUSHMORE features that were incorporated into the new 2014 touring models?

The fact is the company has aggressively expanded its marketing efforts because realistically, there is no replacing white Baby Boomer men. And this means they have to attract younger men, non-Caucasian men, women, and do that from countries as disparate as India, Italy, Brazil and the U.S. with much more success.  By turning inwards, relying on a single-brand tradition and nationalism over the last 4-years and divesting itself of brands that were dimming the lights on a brighter future–the motor company can and now has expanded into other segments.

At the Street 750/500 announcement the Harley-Davidson, CEO Keith Wandell said, “The younger riders don’t want their dad’s chromed-out Harley,” “They want the Dark Custom, sinister look, the ability to rebel.

Sounds like a bit of marketing spin, but with more than half of its dealerships outside the U.S., Harley-Davidson has really put a lot of investment behind a push to expand and broaden its customer base including new motorcycle buyers–worldwide.

Photo’s courtesy of H-D and Kingfisher.  Note: Kingfisher, “The King of Good Times”, is India’s most recognized and widely available beer. Its name has been associated with sports, fashion, and even an airline.

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H-D "Unrest" Paint Set

After 3+ years of running this blog I’ve learned that it can be a truly time consuming gig.  And, finding the time to blog (when it’s not your day job) or keep up the momentum is a challenge.  I often run across topics, but just don’t have the cycles to create something witty or provide fast enough response to trending information before it goes stale.  As a result I’ve re-set (read lowered) my 2011 targets on the number of quality posts per month I can hit.  Quality is always debatable … but at least I don’t have to finish the month feeling blog guilt!

I’m looking to master the art of “half-writing.”  Huh?  I may not have time to create/finish a full blown post, but will try to work up a brief summary and hit the salient points so that readers can look up the information as they wish.  Below is some half-writing:

Buell Bitterness Fades:  His name can never be placed on the motorcycles he builds, but he looks to the future… You may recall that a little over a year ago Harley-Davidson made the decision to shutter Buell.   The Buell name remains with H-D as does the intellectual property and all the original patents.  There is an exclusive interview with Erik Buell who talks about what happened and is looking to return to the volume motorcycle business and possibly to collaborate with Bombardier under the Can Am name.  Motorcyclistonline

2010 Financial Review:  Harley-Davidson is scheduled to release its fourth quarter 2010 financial results before market hours on Tuesday, January 25, 2011.  The public is invited to participate in a webcast conference call and slide presentation with Keith E. Wandell, President and CEO, and John Olin, Senior Vice President and CFO from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM (Central Time).  It is suggested that webcast participants log on and register (HERE) at least ten minutes prior to the start time.  A replay of the slide presentation and audio webcast will be available approximately two hours after the call concludes. Register HERE.

Searchlight, Nevada:  If you’ve ever attended the Laughlin River Run motorcycle rally you’ve likely rode through this town on the way to Laughlin.  More likely you’ll remember the place for the unnatural and militaristic law enforcement of the 25MPH speed limit along with the aggressive ticketing practices during rally week.  It’s also the birthplace of Nevada Senator Harry Reid who on Friday (12.17.10) introduced the 1000 page legislation, S. 303, called the “America’s Great Outdoors Act of 2010” which was a substitute to unrelated legislation titled the “Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 2009.”  Highly reminiscent of the controversial parliamentary tactic that anti-OHV forces used in 2009 to close 2.1 million acres of public land this was seen as yet another non-transparent land grab.  Three days later on Wednesday (22nd) and under significant public pressure Reid dropped his effort – until next year.  See: S. 303

Paris Hilton SupermartXe VIP Motorcycle Team

Top 100: Dealer News announced the Top 100 dealers for 2011 and the northwest Harley-Davidson dealers as part of the list were:  Washington – Downtown Harley-Davidson (Renton);  Montana – Beartooth Harley-Davidson (Billings).  Congrats!  None from Idaho, Oregon or Nevada.  See the full list HERE.

You’ll Sleep When You’re Dead:  Harley-Davidson launched a new Color Shop Limited Series paint set.  The paint set called Unrest, features Day of the Dead skull, tribal designs and helter-skelter lettering over a matte black background on the tank, fenders, fairing and saddlebags.  The product is limited in quantity to 200 sets and available only for one year, priced between $2,199.95 and $5,199.95. The new Unrest paint set is hand-numbered to provide an “extra level” of exclusivity.  More information HERE.

D.B. Class: Somewhat reminiscent of the man who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft on November 24, 1971, D.B. Cooper,  H-D made an announcement to create a new Draggin’ Bagger Class (D.B. Class) for the 2011 race season.  This new drag racing class is centered on the introduction of its Screamin’ Eagle 120R engine, a 120 cubic-inch V-Twin capable of outputting 135 HP and 137 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheel.  The new class is for 1999 and up H-D touring motorcycles equipped with the 120R engine.  The motorcycles in this class must run with an original frame, fairings, saddlebags and other bodywork. See announcement HERE.

BMW Gets SIRIUS: BMW Motorcycles announced that starting with January 2011 production, BMW will offer SIRIUS as standard equipment on new radio-equipped model year 2011 R1200 RT, K1600 GT, and K1600 GTL Touring Motorcycles.  This will include an introductory one-year subscription to the “SIRIUS Everything” package.  Pieter de Waal, Vice President, BMW Motorcycles was quoted to saying something about “… we’re providing the perfect soundtrack for the perfect ride.” See release HERE.

But Wait, There’s More:  Fairy dust heiress and fragrance line extraordinaire, Paris Hilton, has announced her own motorcycle racing team on the world motorcycle championship circuit.  The SupermartXe VIP team was unveiled in Madrid and will compete in the 125cc category.  Ms. Hilton agreed to attend at least 5 races in 2011 where she’ll likely wear the team colors (pink, white and blue).  Clearly this will bring a new level of ‘chic’ to racing!  Team riders?  Who cares!  The big question is will they be required to wear her perfume? See more info HERE.

Photo courtesy of H-D and AP/Paul White.

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Think Snow Bumpersticker - HD Advertising (circa: 1972-74)

It was a big year for Harley-Davidson as they shifted from downsizing, labor agreements and weathering the recession to now looking forward to growth in 2011.  With freezing temperature and snow falling in many parts of the U.S., I’ve compiled some 2010 highlights to provide you some entertainment as you warm up with hot chocolate:

January
1.    Downtown H-D Renton, WA., one of the northwest dealers named among top 100 (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D reported its first quarterly loss since 1993 (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D announces the new, but “old” Forty-Eight Sportster (Link: HERE)

February
1.    H-D donates 28 new Buell and H-D motorcycles to assist in the earthquake disaster (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D marketing continues to pitch brand with young-rebel-with-tats ethos (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D internal documents indicate 382,000 absenteeism hours in the factories (Link: HERE)

March
1.    H-D promotes danger as Seth Enslow breaks Bubba Blackwell’s jump record (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D dealer (Shumate) in Kennewick, WA., closes under a mountain of debt. (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D CEO, Keith E. Wandell 2009 compensation package becomes public as the $6M dollar man (Link: HERE)
4.    H-D marketing pulls out all stops on innovation and launches Super Ride II (Link: HERE)

April
1.    H-D consolidates motorcycle testing in Arizona Proving Grounds (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D files mass layoff notice with Wisconsin department of workforce development (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D CEO, Keith E. Wandell is “encouraged” as Q1 motorcycle sales revenue declines 20% YOY (Link: HERE)
4.    After 26 years of service Bill Davidson is put in charge of the Museum (Link: HERE)

May
1.    H-D CEO, Keith E. Wandell states in interview that H-D is like GM…a fading American industrial might (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D threatens to leave the state of Wisconsin (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D CMO, Mark-Hans Richer is no man crush of this blog (Link: HERE)

June
1.    H-D launches XR1200 Refresh (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D launches Wii based-game: “Road Trip” (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D at the National Law Enforcement Museum (Link: HERE)

July
1.    H-D opens Hyderabad, India showroom to pandemonium (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D reports Q2 earnings with financial services being largest money maker (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D launches the 2011 model lineup of 32 bikes vs. 38 the prior year (Link: HERE)

August
1.    H-D announces closure of sidecar business which operated since 1914 (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D announces 1-MILLION fans on Facebook (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D sold back MV Agusta to its previous owners (Link: HERE)
4.    H-D announces that after 31 years they’ve parted ways with PR firm Carmichael Lynch (Link: HERE)

September
1.    Erik Buell releases teaser ads promoting a new street bike based on 1190RR (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D gives away free posters of any of their 32 models (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D under threat of moving out of state announces ratified 7-year labor agreement (Link: HERE)
4.    H-D “spins” the fact that massive branding efforts result in a 24% brand value decline (Link: HERE)

October
1.    H-D reports Q3 earnings with motorcycle sales declining 7.7% worldwide and 14.4% in the U.S. (Link: HERE)

November
1.    H-D management “negotiates” with Kansas City plant to accept a new labor agreement or we’ll leave state (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D turns down a $25M tax credit deal by Wisconsin State (Link: HERE)

December
1.    H-D never disclosed a $2.3 BILLION deal with Federal Reserve (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D announces first ever “Crowd Sourcing” for new marketing ideas (Link: HERE)

Photo courtesy of H-D.

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MV Agusta - F4

I’m not sure who said it, but there’s an old saying about Harley-Davidson, that goes something like: “if I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.

So, on the day I left for Sturgis (August 6th), Harley-Davidson announced it had concluded the sale of its subsidiary, MV Agusta, to Claudio Castiglioni and his wholly owned holding company, MV Agusta Motor Holding, S.r.l.   You may recall that in October 2009, under the new leadership of CEO Keith Wandell, H-D announced its intention to sell MV Agusta as part of a NEW corporate strategy and to focus resources on the Harley-Davidson brand.  In fact, Mr. Wandell was in route to Minnesota on this announcement day so his handlers undoubtedly had everything all wrapped up prior to his departure ride to Sturgis.

The divesting announcement came 2 years (almost to the day) after it completed the $108M purchase acquisition of MV Agusta on August 8, 2008.  Then CEO Jim Ziemer said of the purchase:

“We are thrilled to welcome the MV Agusta family of customers and employees into the Harley-Davidson family of premium motorcycle brands,” … “Our primary focus with this acquisition is to grow our presence and enhance our position in Europe as a leader in fulfilling customers’ dreams, complementing the Harley-Davidson and Buell motorcycle families.”

The divesting announcement didn’t include the sale price but its 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission revealed the company essentially paid MV Agusta’s former owners to take it back.  In the filing Harley stated it “contributed 20 million Euros to MV as operating capital” that was put in escrow and is available to the buyer over a 12-month period. The buyer was Claudio Castiglioni, who, with his brother Gianfranco, ran MV Agusta for years before selling it to Harley two years ago.  In the filing Harley also said it received “nominal consideration” from the buyer. In a subsequent interview the company said the specific amount it received was $3 Euros (~$3.98 USD)

In 2008 most of us were stymied by the purchase of MV Agusta.  As a maker of expensive and exotic, high-performance sport bikes at minimum it overlapped with the Buell products and even worse was the company never explained how MV could attract younger buyers to H-D.

Here are my questions.  How many laid off workers equal the cost of this poor decision and why hasn’t the Board of Director’s been held accountable for one of the worst business decisions in H-D history?  Yeah, they’ll likely tell me “if they have to explain it I wouldn’t understand…”

I previously blogged about H-D going Italian HERE.

Footnote:  There is a certain level of incompetence from the old time management at H-D and they should-have-known-better.   It’s not the first time Harley-Davidson has had a hard time with an Italian acquisition. In the 1960s it bought a stake in Aermacchi, a maker of small off-road bikes as a way to expand into new markets. Eventually it bought the whole company, but that move also eventually failed and Harley sold Aermacchi in the late 1970s. The sellers and buyers: the Castiglioni brothers.

UPDATE: September 11, 2010 — Not previously made public, but buried in the Sale and Purchase Agreement filed with the SEC is a provision that H-D retains control of any press releases and statements about the sale for a year from the August 6th closing date.  Why?  Maybe the fact that H-D forgave a $103M Euro receivable… basically money it had loaned MV Agusta for operations.  The sale agreement specifies that the receivable transfers to Castiglioni for $1 Euro!!  Shareholders need to hold the board and management responsible for this “BARGAIN:”  H-D paid $108M, then put $20M Euro in escrow for Castiglioni when they “sold” it back; forgave $103.7M Euro’s lent to MV Augusta and wrote off $162.6M on the company.  Q3’10 will include more losses due to tax liabilities…does it ever end?

Photo courtesy of MV Agusta.

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Keith Wandell Resignation Letter

The news was expected.

Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell, citing the pressure of obtaining a motorcycle endorsement and regularly commuting with “cagers”, today announced he is retiring at the relative young age of 60.

It’s through my privileged relations with some of the major actors of the motorcycle industry that allow this blog to offer you an exclusive first look of the resignation letter below:

Date: April 1, 2010
To: Harley-Davidson Employees
From: Office of the President and CEO, Mr. Keith Wandell
Subject: A Letter To My Colleagues

This morning I am announcing my intention to retire by the time of our next board meeting.

It has become clear that in light of the continuing leadership doubt, and the unprecedented level of negative attention about my compensation package, the company – and each of you – has had to endure, that the best thing I can do for you, our dealer network and our shareholders is to retire.

Some of you have done an extraordinary job serving our customers despite the almost daily media distraction.  I feel strongly that the attacks about my riding experience and eight month compensation package of $6.4 million are unjustified, but unfortunately, they show no signs of abating. A simple reality check tells me that people are spending more time reading about the acrimony and not enough time buying our motorcycles from the newly reduced product line up.

What matters is not what happens to me, but it’s really about the remaining employees of Harley-Davidson, our employed customers and our shareholders. The whole is greater than the sum of any 2 parts and clearly more important than me “feeling good about where we are” as a company.   Even in the midst of the first quarterly loss in 16 years, the HDFS liquidity freeze, the India expansion, the Buell distractions, the union worker delinquencies in PA., and the MV Augusta sell-off strategy… my main regret in this short, but well paid, tenure, is that I will not be here to realize the potential of this bold strategy to return the company to a “new” normal.

I will retire when my successor is appointed. The Board has begun a high profile and expensive search for a new CEO, led by the head of the Board’s Compensation, Management Development and Succession Committee. I, of course, will do everything I can to assist in this transition. I will make sure that the company firmly “stays the course” until my successor is chosen.

Let me say that it will not be easy for me to leave. I take enormous pride in obtaining my motorcycle endorsement and I’ve met a bunch of new lunch-time riding buddies.  It’s been said that the true test of a leader is the performance of the company he leaves behind. On that score, I feel my short, but well paid legacy and public record are available for all to read.  The Board has asked me to assure you of their full support as we go through the transition and into the future.

To some of you, I offer my heartfelt thanks for the extraordinary opportunity to work with and lead you during this short tenure that I’ve been in Milwaukee. Of course I will continue to see some of you in the H-D Brewers suite and have enormous faith that the best of Harley-Davidson will be lived in the days ahead.

Sincerely,
Keith “Scooter” Wandell
President and CEO, Harley-Davidson

Happy April Fool’s! Enjoy the day even with all the faux news.

Photo is courtesy of H-D.

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Magna Motors H-D Dealer (Santo Domingo)

By now everyone has heard about Haitians suffering from the mass destruction brought on by the earthquake.   The toll on human life is hard to imagine.  Volunteers have gathered in cities around the world to help with the aid relief.  Not speaking Creole and looking for meaningful ways to help people in Haiti is a challenge — other than to open our wallets.

Hundreds of U.S. companies have rallied to donate everything from money to services and products.  For example FedEx is delivering supplies, Coca-Cola is donating bottled water and food, Lowe’s donated $1M to the Red Cross, Microsoft pledged $1.25M, Google pledged $1M, MLB  pledged a $1M, Procter & Gamble donated PUR Purifiers for access to clean water.  The list of company donations grows daily.

On the motorcycle front, Harley-Davidson announced plans it will donate 28 new Buell and Harley-Davidson motorcycles to assist with earthquake disaster relief and stabilization efforts. The motorcycles are being shipped from Milwaukee to facilities in the Dominican Republic, where the Harley-Davidson dealership Magna Motors, S.A. will facilitate direct delivery to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.  The motorcycles will remain in Haiti as a permanent donation to the government.

I was curious and did a quick Google Maps look up on the Magna Motors H-D dealer (Santo Domingo) and learned its 196km (121 miles) from the Harley dealer to the Haitian border.  Then it’s another ~50miles to the Haiti capital.  Given truck transport issues from the border to Port-au-Prince and lack of ground transportation the motorcycle delivery will unfortunately take time.

At a local level Paradise H-D is donating $100 to MercyCorps (a Portland, OR based team of doctors and volunteers to help during crisis) for every new and pre-owned Harley motorcycle they sell during February.

There are some other ambitious projects underway to help that I want to bring your attention too.  Among them, Haiti OpenStreetMap, now the most complete digital map of Haiti’s roads, hospitals, triage centers and refugee camps currently available. Another project is the We Need, We Have Exchange, a project in partnership with the U.S. State Department to create a Craigslist-style site where nonprofits working in Haiti can post needs and requests and find donors.

Photo courtesy of the Forwood World Motorcycle Travel Blog.

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Keith Urban

Keith Urban

Whoa!  My two previous posts on the current state of the Harley-Davidson state was clearly like a sad country song in an old rundown coffee shop, yup one of those “bummer zones” so, we need a change of scenery.

Speaking of, have you been to Nashville?  If you haven’t been to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum you’re the worse for it.  Yeah, you may think you don’t care about boot-kickers, but you’re missing out on the history of America.  From slavery to the Dust Bowl to Elvis and the tragedy of the Williams family.  To go to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is to become a fan.  And to insure that it lives on, Vince Gill proposed a “All For The Hall” event where every artist cough up one night of revenue for the Hall.

Keith Urban is one who took him up on it and at the Sommet Center (the Staples Center of Nashville), he hosted some of country music’s finest as they raised money for the Hall.   Keith and his band played one my favorites, “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me“:

“I got no money in my pockets
I got a hole in my jeans
I had a job and I lost it
But it won’t get to me”

That’s the power of music.  It crowds out all the negative and replaces the bad thoughts with joy and inspiration.  And when you watch Keith Urban ride his Harley and hear him wail on his guitar, you’ll smile with a good feeling.  I don’t know about you, but after yesterday’s jaw-dropping news from H-D and the layoffs at Buell I needed some “sunshine blown up my skirt.”

Life.  It’s full of hopes and dreams.  And victories and losses.  What gets you through is your friends, family and the music.

Photo courtesy of Keith Urban.

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HD_MCThis is the question I’ve been pondering over after having an opportunity to spend a couple of hours with “No Barriers” founder Neal Petersen.

To save you some time the short version of Neal’s story is — He is a black South African who grew up poor and disabled during apartheid yet achieved his dream of racing/sailing solo around the world.  He now does motivational speaking and is involved in peace talks in multiple countries across the world.  During Mr. Petersen’s speech he routinely ask the audience; “Does what I do on a daily basis at work have a positive impact?”

This resonated with me and while I personally reflect on this I can’t help, but ask the question of Harley-Davidson’s CEO, Keith Wandell.

Today, Harley-Davidson reported out the Q3’09 quarterly results and announced a massive 21.3% decline in revenue for the 3rd quarter and an 84.1% decline in net income from a year ago quarter.  Apparel and general merchandise represents 23% of H-D revenue to date.  Then the news got interesting.  They announced that 14 dealers have closed year-to-date and set the expectation that 15-30 additional dealers will close in the next 6 months as the company reduces inventories to match sales.  They discussed the HDFS bad loan/delinquencies and financial progress.  The Harley-Davidson brand value (note: its moved down from 43 to 71 position) and the more important announcement was to shutter the Buell product line as well as divest its MV Agusta unit.  A busy day of spin as Mr. Wandell went on to discuss the going forward 4-piller strategy of: growth; continuous improvement; leadership development and sustainability.

On the Buell front I can’t say that I’m not surprised because it was reported a couple weeks ago in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Erik Buell didn’t renew his employment contract with the motor company and there were a number of rumors circulating as to what that might mean.  I want to personally thank Erick Buell and the Buell employees.  I believe what they did on a daily basis at work had a positive impact.  They should be proud of what they accomplished.  They are an American innovation poster-child and represent what passionate and inspired people can do through engineering and manufacturing some of the best-handling bikes in the world.  But, in biker speak… it’s WTF?  An American designed and manufactured motorcycle that out performed Asian manufactures all year in the AMA Pro Roadracing circuit and Mr. Wandell dumps it?  This is forward thinking?  2009 marked the first year H-D had a non-motorcycle enthusiast running the company and I have to ask if he really got out there to see what all that (Harley) race stuff was about and how it enhanced the brand?

Since I was rather harsh in a blog post last year about the $108 million MV Agusta deal and describing it as a train wreck, I agree with the decision to abandon it.  Sure this happened under ex-CEO James Ziemer shift who retired shortly after cutting the deal, but the board members clearly approved Mr. Ziemer’s compensation package who walked away with only $5.6M compensation, up 26.5% from 2007.   And in part the compensation was based on the boards admiration of the MV Agusta deal, right?  The board members should be put on notice as there are now another 180 employees set to hit unemployment due to the management of the company and we all know they had line of sight just 12 months ago to the economic issues.

The shocker in the financial call was the statement of investing more in emerging markets up to and including local market design and manufacturing!  Is this a precursor to moving manufacturing off-shore?  A lot of talk about taking Hogs to China and India, but nothing about how well the strategy has worked to woo women, African-Americans and Latinos.  The value of the brand was weaved into the growth strategy, but nothing about why it dropped 43% in 2009.  They’ve talked for two quarters about reducing inventory yet made little progress.  And loans made to iffy borrowers aren’t just taking down housing.

The push by H-D corporate for dealers to build increasingly larger and high-end-glamorous retail outlets meant more dealer debt and subsequent failures.   Chapter 11’s continue to stack up across the northwest.  Three locations of Shumate H-D with one in Kennewick (owner hub), another in Spokane and a satellite location in Lewiston, ID.  I blogged earlier this week about Dave Tuomisto’s, $16M and 6-acre mega-expansion at Timpanogo, UT which went under.  It’s not clear when or if any of these dealers will reemerge and the real downside will be H.O.G. groups folding, lengthy drives for service or to hang and drop in which overall effects customer service and having a healthy Harley community.

Harley is in major trouble.  The spin, baby, spin from Mr. Wandell is not good enough, my friend.

Photo courtesy of H-D.  Financial call transcript courtesy of SeekingAlpha.  Disclosure: I have no investment in HDI

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