In an attempt to bury the news in the Friday rush for the weekend, we now get a surprise announcement from Harley-Davidson saying that the Bar & Shield brand has parted ways with President and CEO Matt Levatich.
Harley-Davidson maintains that the move was “mutual” in its published statement about the news, but any broken hearted teenager can tell you that is never mutual, and in the business world this is especially the case when the news is dropped at the end of the weekly news cycle, and no permanent replacement is announced.
To that latter point, Harley-Davidson board member Jochen Zeitz will take on the title of as acting president and CEO, while Harley-Davidson begins a talent search for a permanent posting. Harley-Davidson’s press release states that Levatich will assist at the company through the month of March.
“The Board and Matt mutually agreed that now is the time for new leadership at Harley-Davidson,” said Zeitz in the company’s press release. “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.”
This management shuffles also means that Zeitz has been named the new Chairman of the Board, and will remain at that post once a new CEO is appointed. Meanwhile, outgoing chairman Michael Cave will become the new Presiding Director.
While Harley-Davidson stock has dropped 46% under Levatich’s tenure since May 1, 2015 (sales are down close to 20%), today’s news comes as a surprise largely because Harley-Davidson’s fate for this result seemed written long before Matt Levatich took on the role of CEO.
For decades, Harley-Davidson had been ignoring the growing trends in the motorcycle industry, and in fact it was Levatich who implemented the company’s “More Roads” business plan, which included outreach to younger riders, the creation of non-cruiser motorcycle offerings, and even made Harley-Davidson the first major OEM to have a full-sized electric motorcycle in its lineup.
Still, falling sales figures (and a similarly fated balance sheet) have fueled concerns amongst investors, which is always a terminal blow for CEOs at publicly traded companies.
This turn marks an end of Levatich’s 26-year career at Harley-Davidson, and it is not clear where the 55-year-old will head to next.
“I am very fortunate to have spent many years with a company as revered as Harley-Davidson,” said Levatich in the Harley-Davidson press release. “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.”