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Matthew S. Levatich

Matthew (Matt) S. Levatich

Harley-Davidson announced that the current CEO of Harley-Davidson, Keith Wandell (age 65) is retiring after taking over the position back in May 2009.  Matthew S. Levatich (age 50), who has served as the President and Chief Operating Officer since May 2009 is scheduled to take over as the next CEO on May 1, 2015.

Mr. Levatich served as President and Managing Director of MV Agusta, a former subsidiary of the Company. In his 15 years at Harley-Davidson, Matt has held positions of increasing responsibility in the U.S. and Europe. He served as General Manager of Parts & Accessories and Custom Vehicle Operations and Vice President of Materials Management.

Matt joined Harley-Davidson in 1994 through its Leadership Development Program and serves on the executive advisory board of the MMM Program at the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management and Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Northwestern University.  He is a trustee on the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and a Regent at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). Mr. Levatich holds an Undergraduate Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He holds ME in Engineering Management and MBA in Marketing, Finance and Organizational Behavior from Northwestern University.

Matt will take the helm of the company at a much better stage than it was during the tenure of Wandell where coincidentally, Harley-Davidson has reported consecutive profits for six years in tandem, which shows how key the effects of Wandell were on the company.

Congrats are in order.  There are challenges ahead which need to be overcome by the company as a whole and it will be interesting to watch advances in the pipeline made by Mr. Levatich.

Photo courtesy of H-D.

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2013 Harley-Davidson Road Glide

2013 Harley-Davidson Road Glide

Harley-Davidson Inc. reported it’s Q4’13 financials today posting a 9.7% year-over-year rise in earnings to 34 cents per share from 31 cents in the year-ago quarter.  The year-over-year increase was due to higher revenues and lower operating expenses in the Motorcycles segment.

Revenues improved 1.7% to $1.19 billion and operating income rose 5.1% to $122 million from $116.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2012.  Net income increased 6.8% to $75.4 million from $70.6 million a year ago.

For the 2013 full year results revenues increased 5.7% to $5.9 billion from $5.58 billion in 2012 and net income increased to $734 million from $623.9 million a year ago.

Harley-Davidson shipped 46,618 motorcycles to dealers and distributors worldwide during the 4th quarter which was down 0.95% from 47,067 motorcycles in the fourth quarter of 2012.   In the U.S., shipments improved 6.3% from the year-ago quarter to 27,387 units and commands roughly 50% share of the U.S. market,

Keith Wandell, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Harley-Davidson called the year “outstanding.”

So were there any other highlights?

Well yes… John A. Olin – Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President stated, “As we anticipated, U.S. retail sales growth in the fourth quarter slowed from the third quarter’s growth rate, behind 2 key drivers…”   “The second was the impact of the absence of the popular Road Glide models in the 2014 model year.  When you look at Q4 of 2012, the Road Glide represented 9% of that volume, and that Road Glide customers are incredibly loyal to that motorcycle. And that’s probably the biggest impact that we had on our 2013 retail sales in the fourth quarter.”

Mr. Olin also talked about a “fatten the tail” strategy.

Huh?

I’m not 100% sure of the context, but simply put, a financial fat tail describes a rare and extreme event.  On one end of the spectrum, are products like Project RUSHMORE that encourage trade-up at a high revenue and at a very high margin, and typically are aimed at H-D’s core customer. But, Rushmore is selling extremely well with outreach customers. And in addition, the Street Glide is the #1 selling bike to women, young adults, African-American and Hispanic’s.

Suffice to say that the Road Glide was a huge part of H-D sales and it’s no longer there.  Yet, the quarter was great!  Congrats to the H-D team.

Photo courtesy of The Bike Exchange

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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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Indian TankCoincidence? 

On Friday, August 9th, three days after the Indian launch, the Harley-Davidson Chief Financial Officer, John Olin sold 11,104 shares of HOG stock.  The stock was sold at an average price of $59.00, for a total transaction of $655,136.00. Following the transaction, the CFO now directly owns 12,702 shares in the company. The sale was disclosed in a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, at this link.

Just a couple of days later Harley-Davidson CEO, Keith Wandell sold 77,102 shares of the stock in a transaction dated Tuesday, August 13th. The shares were sold at an average price of $58.82, for a total transaction of $4,535,139.64. Following the sale, Mr. Wandell now directly owns 70,545 shares in the company.  Those stock options must be working out for him as he now owns three motorcycles; a Street Glide CVO 2011; Road King Classic; and Dyna Wide Glide. 

Well-heeled Riders

Well-heeled Riders

As is often the situation with an executive selling  stock it was likely in the pipeline for weeks prior to the actual sale.

But, after the Great Recession began, the lingering impact of the worst downturn in a half-century continues to deplete the standard of living on the middle-class American household.  Let’s face it, the big factor in the market for anything expensive nowadays is that the only people who have disposable income are the super-rich… and THEY have more of it than anyone has ever had in all of human history.

Sure it’s become trite to slam the rich and I’m trying not to be repetitive.

But, it’s not about being ostentatious:  the super-rich don’t care about impressing the rest of us, because they never see us. They glide from the gated community to the private jet to the island vacation home without encountering any “downscalers.”  They mix exclusively with the other super-rich, and those are the only people they care about impressing.

And that’s tough, because when you’ve got enough money to buy about anything that’s ever been made without a second thought, you have to realize that the guy living next door to your McMansion can buy it too.  So, you’ve just ordered a one-off custom color CVO with a turquoise ostrich-skin seat with matching hand-made gloves and boots?  He’ll give it a glance and say, “Not bad. I think I’ll get a couple for my kids to use when they’re home from prep school.”

So, if really you want to one-up your neighbors by owning something they can’t, your choices are restricted to items with a built-in limited supply, such as art works, and a U.S. Congressmen. Or in keeping with a narrower interpretation of that custom motorcycle style genre, just minimize the amount of tchotchkes on that bone stock H-D motorcycle.

Simple is the new chrome and when your well-heeled fellow riders guffaw, you just have to learn to smirk in a superior way and say, “I guess you don’t grasp the irony…”

Photos courtesy of Indian Motorcycle and Flickr.

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2012 Interbrand Top 100 — Harley-Davidson #96

Maybe it was the Willie G. retirement?   Or it could have been a result of Mark Hans Richer (H-D CMO) flexing marketing muscles on the urban scene.

It might be that after nearly three years of downsizing, plant closures and restructuring its business, Harley-Davidson is firing on both cylinders and there is a lot less heat buildup due to the “synthetic lube” of Keith Wandell’s (H-D CEO) new break-in procedure?  Whatever the case, it has emerged with an improvement in brand value.

This according to Interbrand who recently released the 2012 Best Global Brands.  In 2010, the H-D brand was 100 on the top 100 list.  In 2011 it improved to 98th and for this year it again improved its ranking to 96th.

How does Interbrand choose which brands it considers best?

The research firm uses three factors: 1) the financial performance of the branded product or service; 2) the role the brand plays in influencing consumers; and 3) the strength of the brand in asking a premium price for its products or bringing in earnings for the company.

“Stereo Typical” Harley Ad

The restructure strategies seems to be paying off with signs of solid performance and consistent growth. Sure there are significant “head winds”…  meaning challenging economic times and the motor company knows that it cannot solely rely on baby boomers, and needs to appeal to women, minorities, Gen Y, and Millennials.

HERE is an example of that new outreach (#stereotypicalharley).  Or the remix version HERE.

The management at Harley-Davidson want customers to “feel a certain way” when using their products, visiting a dealer, or surfing on the H-D Web site.  They know that a brand connects a business with the hearts and minds of consumers.

Photo courtesy of Interbrands and H-D.

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110th Anniversary Logo

Well not officially, but according to this site, they’ve obtained a double top secret (read: “leaked”) list of the new Harley-Davidson 2013 model lineup.

No sources were provided, no color schemes or was there any validation via a photo or a scanned copy of the leaked list provided so take all this with a grain of salt.

Motorcycle enthusiasts are well aware that 2013 is the 110th Anniversary for the motor company and similar to the 100th and 95th anniversary celebrations there were a lot of special color combinations and special badging on a broad range of models so we can expect the same for 2013.

For 2013 in the top-of-the-line CVO’s, there will be the CVO Road Glide Custom Anniversary Edition, the CVO Road King, the CVO Road King Anniversary Edition and the CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide Anniversary Edition. The 2012 CVO Softtail Convertible and CVO Street Glide are dropped.

That last one means the price just went up for any stragglers in the dealer showroom floors on this year’s 8-speaker, 1000 Watt, aural bubble machines, i.e., the CVO Street Glide!

Moving down from the CVOs there’s the new 2013 Road King Anniversary Edition and for “trike” crowd there will even be a three wheel Tri Glide Anniversary Edition.

On the Sportster line-up, there is the Sportster 1200 Custom Anniversary Edition, and the Nightster is being dropped.  On the Dyna and Softail lines there’s the new Fat Boy Special Anniversary Edition, Heritage Softail Classic Anniversary Edition and Super Glide Custom Anniversary Edition.  According to the report the “Anniversary Edition” means black paint and some special badges.

In related news, on Monday (June 25th) the Harley-Davidson CEO, Keith Wandell and members of his management team will be in New York to ring the closing bell at the NYSE commemorating the company’s 25th anniversary on the exchange.  It wouldn’t be unheard of them to take Experience Square and transform it into a mini-showroom and have some 2013 models on display.

When I get more information I’ll update this post.

UPDATE: September 9, 2012 – An updated post on the 110th models is HERE.

Photo courtesy of H-D.

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By now you’ve likely read the Q1’12 financial report about how Harley-Davidson Inc. blew away the key financial metrics for the quarter.

You know – Financial Reports – the documents and records pulled together by the motor company to track and review how much money the business is making (or not) with the purpose to update the lenders and shareholders.  These reports are not very friendly or helpful explanations.  More often they require an accounting degree because of the use of financial derivatives, contracts and instruments.

At any rate, not only did H-D report strong gains in earnings for the first quarter of 2012, but motorcycle and related products revenue for the quarter jumped to $1.27 billion, compared with $1.06 billion for the year-ago period.  Consolidated revenue for the quarter, which includes revenue from H-D’s financial services unit, rose to $1.43 billion for the quarter, compared with $1.22 billion in the year-ago quarter.  Most important was the fact that retail sales of new motorcycles grew 20.3 percent worldwide in the quarter compared with the prior-year period and it was led by a strong 25.5 percent increase in the U.S.

Is Harley-Davidson becoming cool to work for again?

It’s a big place and I’m sure some would say yes its cool.  However, what they’ve been through the last couple years has been painful and the process of getting rid of a lot of old bad habits has some maybe thinking no.  The Harley-Davidson chairman, president and CEO, Keith Wandell’s willingness to take on the risks took a lot of courage and it now seems to be paying off.

In other words, it takes 10,000 hours to become world class.  This is a key point in Malcolm Gladwell’s book called “Outliers” which has popularized the theory of 10,000 hours to excellence.  Clearly Mr. Wandell has put in his 10,000 hours, but that doesn’t mean anyone will notice.  Many will just shrug their shoulders at his accomplishments, or they might not even care.

I’ve taken notice and wonder if Harley-Davidson is ahead of its time or is the outlook less optimistic because they’re very good at setting targets that they are confident of being able to hit?

I would suggest that their success this quarter has been largely dependent on “baggers” and the discretionary spending situation improving versus bold new designs.  Meaning the whole motorcycle industry is running on conventional wisdom. People keep doing it the way everybody else is doing it, not expecting a different result so much as being desirous of converting people over to their brand or getting the few remaining conventional buyers left in the business.

You might disagree, but from my vantage Harley-Davidson hasn’t busted out a new “hit” (model) with worldwide success in long time despite the daily onslaught of promotions and publicity.  I’m talking about a stand in the line type of hit!  The conventional orthodoxy of the motorcycle industry is that H-D’s are styled conservatively.  This is typical market research talking.  It’s conventional wisdom saying don’t take a risk on design.  Just accept safe.  A blacked-out bolt here and a new red glitter color there.

Independent of this most recent financial report, the issue is that “safe” doesn’t consistently move the needle in terms of sales.

John Krafcik, President and CEO of Hyundai Motor America

If that were true then Hyundai sales wouldn’t be burgeoning or would they be the most feared major car company in the U.S.  Do you remember when Hyundai’s used to be a joke? Jay Leno said you could double a Hyundai’s value by filling it up with gas.  No one’s laughing now as Hyundai’s John Krafcik steered it from joke to contender. It took a risk.

So, when will we see some of that product “risk” that Harley-Davidson refers to in the quarterly financial reports?  Or has it all come down to being safe and going after the number of “likes” on social networking sites?  Hey, Harley… 1999 called and said they want the true-to-self artistry back!  We can smell the hype.  We know when you’re working it.  What’s sup with all the emphasis on tweeting and hyper-vomiting facebook “fans” over everyone’s networking profiles.  It all adds to the dissonant fray of self promotion and it’s hard to hear when everyone is yelling.

If you have a hot product, people want it.  We know when something impacts us, when we believe it’s great.  And when we find something good, we want to get closer, we want to tell everybody we know.  You don’t have to tweet, you don’t have to Facebook, you don’t even need a website. But it’s got to be different, it’s got to challenge conventional wisdom, it’s got to appeal to people’s hearts more than their pocket books.

Harley-Davidson is at a point where they can make the transformation from the perennial also-ran to a motorcycle industry jauggernaut that pushes the envelope in its designs while other companies try to catch up.  Or the Hyundai equivalent will…

Photos courtesy of H-D and Richard Drew/AP.

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