Interview with Harley-Davidson President & COO

Matt Levatich talks about the company's past, present and future

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by Mike Strehlow

MILWAUKEE -- This is the transcript from Mike Strehlow's interview with Harley-Davidson President and Chief Operating Officer Matt Levatich: 

Mike Strehlow:  "The last time riders celebrated Harley's anniversary was in 2008, the105th, the economy was really about to take a dive, and just like so many other industries, Harley-Davidson experienced some big time sales drops, 40 to 50 percent.  How has it emerged from the great recession?" 

Matt Levatich:  "Those were very tough times as you point out.  We had to do a lot to restructure the company, and I can honestly say during my 19 years that I've been at this company, we're stronger than we've ever been as company I believe in our entire 110 year history because of the tough work we took on in manufacturing and product development, sales, retail, and just making sure that we're running this company the way that it needs to be run to in order to be here in another 110 years.  We're in a position of strength, working hard, devlivering for our customers everything they expect from Harley-Davidson." 

Strehlow:  "What is your message to those employees, some of whom had to make some big sacrifices, as you head into year 111?" 

Levatich:  "Well, I'll just say that I'm very proud of everything, everybody's done for the position that the company's in now and the potential that we have in front of us.  And when I get the chance to speak to riders as I did on this ride across the country, I always close by saying you know on behalf of the 6-thousand employees, thank you for  your choice in Harley-Davidson.  We're working hard for you as a customer and we're all aligned in doing that." 

Strehlow:  "Project Rushmore is the most significant rollout of new models in the 110 year history." 

Levatich:  "With Project Rushmore, 20 percent of what we did is address things that people said they wanted changed or improved.  80 percent is totally surprising things that we learned by listening, they couldn't say what they wanted and we just nailed it.  It's just an awesome example of what we can do when we set out and be clear of what the customer needs for us and what we can deliver as a brand and get them out doing it." 

Strehlow:  "In the past 3 decades, I've been in a number of executive offices, usually buttoned up kind of places.  Not here, in fact look where we are standing. These are actually burnouts on the floor?" 

Levatich:  "This is an example of how we do things at Harley-Davidson.  We just renovated this beautiful 100 year old building...we're in the process of renovating it, we've finished the executive corner.  To christen it all we got a guy in here on a sportster do a burnout.  He not only did HD on the concrete as you emerge here from the elevators, but he also went on to go tooling around on that nice hardwood floor over there doing what only Harley-Davidson would do to christen the office.  Not bottles of champaign.' 

Strehlow:  "Not at all." 

Levatich:  "As I like to say we were smoking indoors here in Wisconsin for one day.  It was a lot of fun." 

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