An American icon, Harley-Davidson was in trouble before coronavirus rode into town. Its previous CEO left due to shareholders threatening a proxy fight. Shareholders were concerned about the brand’s skidding sales. The Board disagreed with the strategy of selling smaller, less expensive bikes turning away from the core customer base who loved the big, heavy, more costly machines.
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In March 2020, activist investor Bob Bishop (who heads Impala Asset Management and was the former Chief Investment Officer of Soros Fund Management) criticized the Harley-Davidson CEO for forsaking its core customer base. While focusing on cheaper, smaller models, the core customers were not only ignored, but the bikes they liked to ride were not updated. Bloomberg, reporting on the Impala Asset Management filing indicated that, “a point of contention was the $9000 Sportster bike” that had not been redesigned in 16 years.
As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Harley-Davidson’s new CEO, a longtime member of Harley-Davidson’s Board, Jochen Zeitz, told analysts that the previous strategy of model expansion while chasing new customers and markets added manufacturing complexity and “diverted attention from Harley’s profitable models.”
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