Iconic American motorcycle company Harley-Davidson hasn’t exactly been thriving lately. In an effort to turn things around, the company announced that CEO Matt Levatich will be leaving. Levatich will stick around for a month, though, to “assist with the transition.”
Taking over as CEO is current board member Jochen Zeitz. The 56-year-old German native will serve on an interim basis while the search for a permanent new CEO takes place. Zeitz has previously been the CEO of sporting goods company Puma and also served on the board of directors of luxury goods maker Kering.
More from Harley’s official press release:
Zeitz said, “The Board and Matt mutually agreed that now is the time for new leadership at Harley-Davidson. Matt was instrumental in defining the More Roads to Harley-Davidson accelerated plan for growth, and we will look to new leadership to recharge our business. On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank Matt for his 26 years of service to Harley-Davidson. He has worked tirelessly to navigate the Company through a period of significant industry change while ensuring the preservation of one of the most iconic brands in the world.”
“The Harley-Davidson Board and leadership team will continue to work closely together as we search for a new CEO. We have confidence that our combined leadership experience and deep understanding of Harley-Davidson will ensure an effective transition. As a passionate Board Member of Harley-Davidson, I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and other Harley-Davidson stakeholders to advance and deliver the Company’s strategy and execution during this important time,” Zeitz continued.
Levatich had been the CEO of Harley since 2015. However, sales dropped every single year of his tenure in charge. It could be argued that those declines aren’t strictly his fault, since the company famous for selling big, expensive, loud motorcycles doesn’t exactly appeal to a new generation of consumers.
Levatich did try to modernize Harley, though. He helped debut the LiveWire, Harley’s flagship electric bike. There are several more electric models in the pipeline. Unfortunately, Levatich’s “More Roads” campaign did little to actually get more people to buy a Harley. Today’s younger consumers are shying away from motorcycles in general, but the ones they do buy tend to be smaller and less expensive. While Harley may eventually right the ship, they were slow to react to the changing marketplace.
Technically, Harley is still making a profit. Even with sales down for the fourth straight year, the company made $423 million in net income in 2019. However, that was more than $100 million less than the year before. The trend has been bad for a while, and the company desperately needs a change for the better. Whoever takes over as the full-time CEO better be ready for the monumental challenge.