Saturday February 29, 2020
The more than 116-year-old cult motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson has developed from a US flagship company into a problem case. Now Chef Levatich throws in the towel. A well-known German business manager succeeds him – but only temporarily.
The head of the troubled US motorcycle icon Harley-Davidson, Matt Levatich, takes off his hat. As the successor, the company initially appointed the former boss of the German sporting goods manufacturer Puma, Jochen Zeitz, on Friday after the US stock market closed. Zeitz has been on Harley-Davidson’s board of directors since 2007. However, he should only take on the top job temporarily until a permanent solution has been found.
“The board of directors and management team at Harley-Davidson will work closely together to find a new CEO,” announced Zeitz. The 56-year-old German top manager had taken over the top post at Puma in 1993 at the age of 30, when he was the youngest CEO of a German stock corporation at the time.
Levatich joined Harley-Davidson in 1994 and was promoted to chief executive in May 2015. His tenure was marked by a deep crisis, with sales in the U.S. home market dropping for the fifth year in a row in 2019. Internationally, business has not been running smoothly for a long time. Harley-Davidson groans under the US government-led trade dispute with China and the EU, which has resulted in high import duties on the manufacturer’s products.
The company is also suffering from an aging clientele and conflicts with supporters of US President Donald Trump. The latter had at times heavily attacked Harley-Davidson because of production relocations abroad, which led to calls for boycotts. The company wants to get the curve with e-motorbikes, for example, which should appeal to younger groups of buyers, but it also has difficulties with it. “We consider 2020 to be a crucial year,” said Levatich when presenting the annual figures at the end of January in view of the major challenges.
The news of his resignation was well received by investors, and Harley-Davidson shares rose over five percent after the exchange. The long-established US company, founded in 1903 in Milwaukee, has a difficult time on Wall Street. The share price has fallen 18 percent so far this year.