Confirming a move that appeared to have February 2020 stamped all over it (see Comment, AMD January), Harley-Davidson announced that Matt Levatich had "stepped down as President and CEO and as a member of the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors has appointed current Board member Jochen Zeitz as Acting President and CEO."
The announcement was made late on Friday February 28 - after trading had finished on Wall Street. Having seen the share price decline by 45% on his watch (and sales tumble by 20% in that time), Harley's share price jumped by nearly +5% in afterhours trading.
Harley's statement continued…
A committee of the Board will be formed, and the company will utilize an external search firm to undertake a search for a new CEO, and a further announcement will be made at a later date. Levatich will assist with the transition through the end of March.
As part of this leadership change, Jochen Zeitz has also been named Chairman of the Board and will remain Chairman once a new CEO is appointed. Current Chairman of the Board, Michael Cave, is now Presiding Director.
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 said: "I am very fortunate to have spent many years with a company as revered as Harley-Davidson. The grit and determination of the employees and dealers and their passion for bringing our brand of freedom to people around the world has always been inspiring. I am proud of what we have achieved during my time as CEO, in one of the most challenging periods in our history, and I am confident that the progress we have made on the More Roads plan will position Harley-Davidson for long-term success."
End of Statement
Jochen Zeitz - Back Story
Zeitz has been a member of the Harley-Davidson Board of Directors since 2007, but is far from being a corporate archetype, never mind a motorcycle industry or Harley company lifer - it was he who established Harley's Brand and Sustainability Committee.
Born in Mannheim in 1963 and educated, among other places, at the European Business School (EBS), Wiesbaden, Germany. He has an impressive resume, having been Chairman and CEO of the sporting goods company PUMA from 1993 to 2011. He was also PUMA's CFO from 1993 to 2005.
Zeitz served as a director of luxury goods company Kering from 2012 to 2016 (formerly PPR and a major shareholder in PUMA at the time). Paris, France based Kering is the owner of the Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen brands, among others. He was a member of Kering's Executive Committee and CEO of its Sport & Lifestyle division from 2010 to 2012 and is a Board Member of the Cranemere Group Limited - a London based Private Equity investor.
Zeitz founded his own foundation - The Zeitz Foundation - in 2008, described as being focussed on "Intercultural Ecosphere Safety." The foundation's mission is "creating a better future through conservation, community, culture and commerce." In 2013 he co-founded (and remains on the board of) The B Team - a global non-profit initiative which he co-founded with serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic, Galactic and much else fame.
B-Team describes itself as bringing together "a group of global leaders from business, civil society and government to catalyze a better way of doing business that prioritizes the wellbeing of people and the planet."
Zeitz is also an author. In 2013 he published "The Manager and the Monk - A Discourse on Prayer, Profit and Principles", co-authored with Anselm Gruen, a monk and cellarer at a Benedictine Monastery in Germany.
In 2014 he co-authored "The Breakthrough Challenge - 10 Ways to Connect Today's Profits With Tomorrow's Bottom Line" with John Elkington, an environmentalist and prophet of "social entrepreneurship" who was described in 2004 by Business Week as "a dean of the corporate responsibility movement for three decades."
Zeitz's fingerprints are clearly visible on the environment and fiscal sustainability elements of Harley's 'More Roads' strategic plan. However, despite his connection with Sir Richard Branson, rumors of a MY 2021 Harley branded low earth orbit cruiser powered by recycled Wildebeest dung are thought to be wide of the mark!