In a press release today, Harley-Davidson announced the immediate appointment of Jochen Zeitz to president and chief executive officer. Zeitz previously served as a member of Harley-Davidson’s board, then stepped into the role of interim CEO back in February. Thomas Linebarger will serve as presiding director.
Zeitz, who took the interim CEO role when former CEO Matt Levatich was ousted in February, is best known for his time at Puma, where he worked to turn around a struggling brand. Zeitz, a native of Germany, was chairman and CEO of Puma for 1993 to 2011. He joined Harley-Davidson’s board in 2007.
“His two decades of experience as Chairman & CEO of a leading global company and brand, and his enthusiasm and determination to challenge everything about the company based on his turnaround experience is exactly what we need right now to lead Harley-Davidson to long term success,” said Linebarger. “He has the unequivocal support of the board."
Zeitz’s transition comes at a pivotal moment in Harley-Davidson’s story. Like most other corporations, Harley-Davidson saw a dramatic drop in sales beginning in the second half of March due to the COVID-19 pandemic as more than half of all Harley-Davidson dealers in the United States shut down and production stopped at the company's plants. And with Levatich out, Zeitz and the rest of Harley’s leadership were already looking to adjust H-D’s course with a process called "The Rewire” that will lead to a new, five-year strategic plan.
As Zeitz takes on the role of CEO, it’s expected that Harley-Davidson will continue with the plans laid out in their quarterly earnings report. In short, some of the old “More Roads to Harley-Davidson” plan will be retained, but the MoCo “will focus more on the markets and products that can drive performance in terms of profitability and growth.” In a past statement, Zeitz emphasized more focus on domestic sales. And projects like the Bronx streetfighter and Harley’s first ADV bike have not been canceled.
"In alignment with the board, my decision to become the President and CEO of Harley-Davidson reflects my deep passion and commitment to this company," Zeitz said. "During this extraordinary time of crisis my first priority is the well-being of our H-D community as I execute our COVID-19 response plan efforts to stabilize the business, resume operations and recover. I am also leading a necessary and comprehensive overhaul of the company structure, operating model, and strategy as we adjust to the new post COVID-19 realities. Over the next few months, we will rewire the business and define a new 5-year strategic plan later this year. I will then oversee the implementation of these changes and reignite Harley-Davidson as one of the most revered and iconic brands in the world."