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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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Digging Through Saddlebags

Digging Through Saddlebags

Yeah, it may well happen if you come across a motorcycle-only checkpoint.

I’ve written previously about how motorcycle safety outweighs individual liberty as state and local governments have begun to implement motorcycle-only checkpoints that unfairly target motorcyclists for inspection by law enforcement officers.

Specifically it’s called the “Motorcycle Law Enforcement Demonstration Grant” (DTNH22-10-R-00386) and the motorcycle-only checkpoints are funded by grants given out by the federal government, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  That’s correct.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is offering federal funds to expand the practice of creating motorcycle-only checkpoints by law enforcement agencies.

Initially started in New York State, the process involves setting-up checkpoints where only motorcycles are pulled over. Law enforcement officers will check for U.S. DOT-compliant helmets, legal exhaust systems, and compliance with licensing, registration and inspection regulations.  And they may decide to dig through your saddlebags!

What can you do?

Petition-PhotoSign this petition which calls for the cessation of the NHTSA’s direct and indirect funding of the motorcycle-only checkpoints through its grants and other measures, and asks that the laws for vehicle conformity and passenger safety be applied equally to motorcycles and automobiles alike.

Why This Petition Site?  The White House’s “We the People” website is the only one that sends a message directly to the president.  Once 25,000 signatures are reach, the petition is put in front of President Barack Obama, where he has to officially respond to the petition, which could include directing the NHTSA from funding motorcycle-only checkpoints.

I Live In A State With-Out Motorcycle-Only Check Points, Why Should I Bother To Sign?  Because there are a large number of motorcyclists in the U.S., yet overall our passion is shared by only a small portion of the population. This makes it relatively easy for laws, and those who enforce those laws, to target motorcyclists unfairly.  The motorcycling community needs to come together, regardless of how this one issue affects you, in order to ensure that the basic rights of motorcyclists everywhere are assured.

This Won’t Change Anything, So I’m Not Going To Waste My Time.  You might be right, but putting the issue in front of The President of the U.S. might do something, and if nothing else, it shows that the motorcycle-riding community is an active participant in what occurs in Washington D.C. and in the local legislatures. Doing nothing truly means that nothing will change.

Crap, I Have To Register To Sign This.  Are You Kidding Me?  The White House’s “We the People” website is the only site that sends a message directly to the president, and if there are enough signatures, the president has to formally respond to the petition.

I Don’t Want The Government To Have My Email Address.  Ahh… right, like they don’t already know where you live…

Please take the time and consider signing the petition.

Photos courtesy of Baggers Magazine and The White House “We The People” website.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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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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I was in L.A. last week driving down part of Route 66 towards the Santa Monica pier and through Beverly Hills enjoying the nice California  weather.

There were more yet-to-be licensed Benzes, Ferraris and Porsches over a three-mile stretch than I’ve seen in the past year.  And here I was in an ultra-cool Nissan Cube rental, arm out the window and for a few blocks co-mingling with the rich and famous.

Speaking of… did you read that the Harley-Davidson president and CEO, Keith Wandell, opted not to have his base salary increased in 2011, according to a proxy statement filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

On the surface this – “we’re all in it together” – grand gesture would make a person believe that a CEO who accepts a ZERO increase in salary is saying they’re a team player who wants to make a sacrifice for the good of the company.  After all wasn’t it Harley-Davidson management that laid-off hundreds of workers, closed plants and obtained impressive union concessions in a new multi-tiered workforce structure for the survival of the company?

Call me cynical, but when I hear about these it seems more like “camouflage” to deflect scrutiny off the extraordinary set of CEO benefits or at minimum to get publicity and produce significant positive short-term market reaction.

In fact, there are a number of reports which suggest these type of salary tactics are nothing but a ruse or smokescreen as a number of CEOs have adopted these pay schemes.  It’s the kind of opportunistic behavior from those wealthier, more confident, influential CEO’s rather than sacrificial acts they are ‘projected’ out to be.

I certainly don’t know if or what Mr. Wandell’s intent was, but we do know his total compensation in 2011 rose nearly 13% to about $7.2 million, compared with $6.4 million in 2010.  We also know the motor company paid Mr. Wandell a bonus of $365,639 in 2011.  He also received a base salary of $975,037 in 2011, equal to his salary in 2010.

And to be clear this post isn’t about wealth envy or whining about how it must be nice to be rich.  We all know that rich people and bankers are beating the system.  They’re writing off multi-thousand dollar meals with rare wines at places with unlisted phone numbers that you/I can’t get into.  Unless you just woke up in North Korea, then you know that in America, if you don’t like what you earn, where you work or what you do for a living then you’re entitled to leave (quit) and go start a company, further your education or do whatever the hell you want.  It’s clear that company’s exist to make a profit for their shareholders and if the shareholders don’t like what the CEO is doing, or earning then they can fire the board of directors to include the CEO.

But wait there’s even more.  Mr. Wandell received total cash bonus payments, both discretionary and performance-based, totaling more than $2.8 million in 2011, compared with cash bonus payments of about $2.3 million in 2010.  His stock awards were valued at $1.5 million, compared with $1.4 million in 2010, while his option awards were valued at $1.7 million, compared with $1.6 million the previous year.  He also received “other” compensation totaling about $175,000 in 2011, compared with about $84,000 in 2010. The payments included $29,600 in lieu of receiving certain perquisites and personal benefits, nonqualified deferred compensation plan contributions of $68,466, 401(k) plan contributions of $31,850, and life insurance premiums of $13,727. He also received additional benefits that totaled $25,478 consisting of financial planning services, personal use of company aircraft and clothing.

What’s the punch line?

Well given that Mr. Wandell has made things happen, meaning that as “Head Honcho” he made moves that H-D insiders historically shied away from.  He played hardball with dealers, shed crappy brands, cut labor contracts, made major job cuts and closed plants. Some folks were let go just prior to Christmas, but unfazed he continued to trim the fat and raised cash by selling some old investments, like Harley’s semi-secret test track in the Everglades.  He also challenged Harley’s own traditional norms by altering its marketing strategy to attract non-traditional segments, like women and minorities.  He also embarked on an international growth strategy that will eventually bring the all the products, the parts, the lifestyle, and the American V-Twin to enthusiasts worldwide.  The financial numbers speak for themselves.

All this from a guy who came to the Motor Company and did not even ride any kind of motorcycle!  He’s earned a raise.  How hard is it to understand… Harley success = Industry success.

Photo taken by author’s iPhone and post-processed in Snapseed (Nik Software).

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Halloween Motorcycle Ghosts

As Halloween approaches, I decided to ponder: What strikes fear into the hearts of Harley-Davidson executives all over the land?

To answer that question, I peeked into a crystal ball, reviewed the Christine O’Donnell ad on “witches” and met with a couple carneys on voo-doo to peer into the subconscious of the motorcycle company’s most powerful execs and see what goes bump in their night.

To be clear: Some of these nightmares clearly stretch the bounds of reality, but some have a level of plausibility. They range from trivial worries to scenarios that could bring down an entire company. Read on to find out about Harley-Davidson executives’ nightmares:

CEO Starts Shooting Black-and-White Commercials: An attempt by Keith E. Wandell (CEO) to humanize the company, explain its brand value and reverse the damage which was done by the glaring hole in his garage when he admitted after being hired in 2009 that he didn’t ride a Harley-Davidson or even have a motorcycle endorsement — he has since rushed out and bought one, placed a yellow one on display in his office, obtained a “Rode Mine to Sturgis” patch and rumors are he’s ordered a 2011 model.  The CEO as pitchman in commercials is not exactly a new concept.  Just look at Sprint who seemingly cornered the market with classy, black-and-white appearances and what it did for them.

H-D Factory Employees Ride BMW: The nightmare manufacturing scenario is this: Matthew S. Levatich (President and COO) calls an all-hands meeting and scores of manufacturing personnel show up riding BMW’s new K1600. Not only would it be a rebuke of the company’s own philosophy, but it would be another sign that H-D’s bet on union workers in WI., was at a dead-end.

H-D Restarts Side-Car Manufacturing and No One Buys Them (Again): John A. Olin (CFO) doubles down on the H-D investment as the marketing efforts were not enough to sell a sidecar-challenged public the first time around, but this time side-cars will have a renaissance comeback.  Or the company hopes so.

H-D Brand Falls Off Top 100 List: Mark-Hans Richer’s (CMO) continued branding efforts to market motorcycles that boasts history over flash results in Harley dropping from the Top 100 Global Brands.  In 2010, H-D went from #73 to #98 — a 24% drop in popularity and brand value. Finding another Malcolm Forbes or Jesse James out there who can provide their personal endorsement will help improve the motorcycle brand value and might keep it on the top 100 list?  In the mean time more advertising is in the pipeline that will lead the public to think that if you own this product you too will be cool.

Fed’s Apply GM Like Pressure On H-D To Be Green(er): Jon Flickinger, (President & COO of Buell) says that H-D being a “tree-hugger” is not the first thing that comes to mind. But, just as President Obama has told our CEO during their lunch meetings, the greenhouse standards will become tougher and H-D will need to aggressively adopt new ‘green’ codes for its factory and dealer network inorder to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s L.E.E.D. certification.  In addition they will add a new electric motorcycle to their product line, based on the Sportster Family.  Lastly and for good noise measure the company will implement California’s, SB 435 law early — on all 2011 models — which requires all street motorcycles built after 2012 to have EPA-labeled exhausts.

Secret Motorcycle Design Found At Museum Teambuilding Scavenger Hunt: Willie G. (Chief Designer) celebrates his design team accomplishments in an elegant 1920’s style glam and glitter – “the new beginning of the motorcycle” – party with everyone’s family in attendance that was hosted by the H-D Museum.  Some H-D employees dressed in the era of 1920’s to 1930’ in their caps, knee socks and knickers to remind people what it was like during the ‘roaring’ yesteryear. The feeling was eerie and mysteriously exciting all at the same time.  The employee’s children participated in a pencil and paper design contest of which an 8th grader defined the motorcycle shape that will be used to create all future motorcycle styles.

Merger Madness: Joanne Bishmann (VP Communications) is weaving a compelling story and spinning the news how Harley-Davidson is pressured into a merger in order to save the company from further manufacturing cuts and/or collapse.  H-D sells 49% of its shares to Daewoo Corporation in exchange for a much needed influx of capital and to pay off the $6B in debt.  Hyosung Motorcycle director, Mr. Ji Jas Ryong (pronounced “jus wrong”) says “We do not expect to change anything with the famous look of the H-D product, other than the logo, in fact we consider it an honor to include it along side Hyosung premium sport bike line.”

What are your thoughts?  Are there other H-D nightmares out there?

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures (Ghost Rider) This blog post is satire and entirely fictitious.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Barricades outside The View studios on West 66th Street

There are more than 13 MILLION people unemployed.  You can’t trust the prognostications as we’re in a state of chronic joblessness. Two wars, the BP oil slick, housing implosiong, poll numbers down and imaginary racism (Shirley Sherrod & Arizona Immigration) is up – so it’s a good time to go on “The View” for a little “Chatty Kathy” with friends.  Huh?

I’m speaking of President Obama who made the unpresidential decision to appear on The View! Given all the hard hittin’ questions about – his iPod playlist, Mel “The Raging Ranter” Gibson, Lohan’s jail stint, his fav colors and Snooki!   Who?  Was this a Tiger Beat interview?!  Next up in the fluffy daytime TV demographic has to be a Jerry Springer special to break through directly to those people who think dignity’s out of fashion.

The only item missing was a well-placed Harley-Davidson commercial break espousing “What Women Want” from a cruiser motorcycle – just after that Mel Gibson question.  The media spin was classic.  Let’s talk about needing to govern vs. campaigning as he sat there on the sofa promoting himself and his agenda to the daytime talk show demographic – a bunch of mindless women who talk a lot about nothing everyday.

In order to have time to visit the “den of gossip” the president snubbed the Boy Scouts and their l00th anniversary jamboree, for which he was the scheduled main speaker.  Nice!  Obama’s three predecessors have spoke at the event.  No worries.  I’m sure all the Scouting youth will forget the administration snub as they become exceptional (voting age) adults.

And if you’re like me, being subjected to this JayZ and ‘Snooki’ nonsense – all in the same sentence – had me wondering if my mind had turned to mush.  Could  the time not be better served elsewhere?   It was the wrong timing, wrong message, wrong audience and I have no clue why they thought this was a good idea?

We need leadership not lecturing.  Dude needs to do his job.  If not, I hear BP is looking for a new spokesman.

Note: I’m not on a White House watch or changing the blog to rant on political accountability, but this was just “Bush’s” league when it comes to issues of credibility.

BREAKING NEWS: July 30, 2010 —  Snooki gets arrested per US Magazine.

Photo courtesy of Jen Chung.

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Keith Wandell Resignation Letter

The news was expected.

Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell, citing the pressure of obtaining a motorcycle endorsement and regularly commuting with “cagers”, today announced he is retiring at the relative young age of 60.

It’s through my privileged relations with some of the major actors of the motorcycle industry that allow this blog to offer you an exclusive first look of the resignation letter below:

Date: April 1, 2010
To: Harley-Davidson Employees
From: Office of the President and CEO, Mr. Keith Wandell
Subject: A Letter To My Colleagues

This morning I am announcing my intention to retire by the time of our next board meeting.

It has become clear that in light of the continuing leadership doubt, and the unprecedented level of negative attention about my compensation package, the company – and each of you – has had to endure, that the best thing I can do for you, our dealer network and our shareholders is to retire.

Some of you have done an extraordinary job serving our customers despite the almost daily media distraction.  I feel strongly that the attacks about my riding experience and eight month compensation package of $6.4 million are unjustified, but unfortunately, they show no signs of abating. A simple reality check tells me that people are spending more time reading about the acrimony and not enough time buying our motorcycles from the newly reduced product line up.

What matters is not what happens to me, but it’s really about the remaining employees of Harley-Davidson, our employed customers and our shareholders. The whole is greater than the sum of any 2 parts and clearly more important than me “feeling good about where we are” as a company.   Even in the midst of the first quarterly loss in 16 years, the HDFS liquidity freeze, the India expansion, the Buell distractions, the union worker delinquencies in PA., and the MV Augusta sell-off strategy… my main regret in this short, but well paid, tenure, is that I will not be here to realize the potential of this bold strategy to return the company to a “new” normal.

I will retire when my successor is appointed. The Board has begun a high profile and expensive search for a new CEO, led by the head of the Board’s Compensation, Management Development and Succession Committee. I, of course, will do everything I can to assist in this transition. I will make sure that the company firmly “stays the course” until my successor is chosen.

Let me say that it will not be easy for me to leave. I take enormous pride in obtaining my motorcycle endorsement and I’ve met a bunch of new lunch-time riding buddies.  It’s been said that the true test of a leader is the performance of the company he leaves behind. On that score, I feel my short, but well paid legacy and public record are available for all to read.  The Board has asked me to assure you of their full support as we go through the transition and into the future.

To some of you, I offer my heartfelt thanks for the extraordinary opportunity to work with and lead you during this short tenure that I’ve been in Milwaukee. Of course I will continue to see some of you in the H-D Brewers suite and have enormous faith that the best of Harley-Davidson will be lived in the days ahead.

Sincerely,
Keith “Scooter” Wandell
President and CEO, Harley-Davidson

Happy April Fool’s! Enjoy the day even with all the faux news.

Photo is courtesy of H-D.

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