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Surprise initiative in Harley-Davidson Inc.’s new strategic plan for stock grants to 4,500 employees

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By Rich Kirchen

As details emerge on a surprise initiative in Harley-Davidson Inc.’s new strategic plan for stock grants to 4,500 employees including factory workers, a Milwaukee union leader sees it as a hopeful sign of improved labor relations.

Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HOG) chairman, president and CEO Jochen Zeitz announced the program Feb. 2 when the company unveiled its five-year strategic plan. The company initially didn’t release any specifics and since then indicated only that it will provide grants via restricted stock that will vest over multiple years.

“It is only fitting that this inaugural action is for our own Harley-Davidson community who continue to deliver our iconic products and experiences with great pride and craftsmanship every day,” Zeitz said in announcing the stock-grant program.

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In a later interview with Reuters, Zeitz said his company’s initiative was inspired by a program devised by private-equity firm KKR & Co. Inc. executive Pete Stavros.

Although New York City-based KKR is not a Harley-Davidson investor, Zeitz said he worked on the plan after meeting Stavros. Stavros the past few years spearheaded a stock-awards program at KKR-owned industrial companies.

About 20,000 non-management employees have been awarded more than $500 million worth of stock, according to KKR.

“In industrial firms the majority of the workforce tend to have low levels of income and low levels of engagement, but they are critical to your success,” Stavros said in a Reuters article.

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