Matt Levatich '94
Driving change at Harley-Davidson ‘at the right time’
by Sara Langen
For 8-year-old Matt Levatich, riding a dirt bike was one of the greatest joys in life. In fact, in the 1970s, Levatich spent much of his free time roaming around his neighborhood in upstate New York on his motorcycle.
Today, as president and chief operating officer of Harley-Davidson Motor Co., Levatich is just as revved to head one of the most iconic motorcycle companies in the world.
“Harley-Davidson clearly stands for something that is very compelling to people,” says Levatich, who has worked for the company since graduating from Kellogg. “There’s no ambiguity; people can identify with it strongly if they want to. That’s what makes it different — not just from motorcycle brands, but practically any brand.
“It’s that level of commitment that’s different.”
As president, Levatich oversees global sales, marketing, product development, engineering, manufacturing, parts and accessories, and more — “everything that the average person thinks of when they think of Harley-Davidson,” he says. “It’s a tremendous responsibility and a tremendous challenge.”
But even for someone who likes a challenge, Levatich says the current economic crisis has been a hard ride. For instance, the distressed economy has highlighted some core foundational business issues that Harley-Davidson needed to address in order to succeed as a company long-term.
To tackle those challenges, Levatich has focused on “lining up priorities and aggressively going after changes in the right order, at the right time,” he says. Those initiatives include contemporizing systems and processes at Harley-Davidson that have been in place for 40 or
Levatich credits Kellogg with preparing him to take on that challenge and others he’s faced in his 17-year career at Harley-Davidson. He enrolled in the MMM Program in the early 1990s after honing his skills as a mechanical engineer at the FMC Corp. and Albany International Corp.
“It was a transformative couple of years,” he remembers. “The group learning process helped me understand what I didn’t know, which is very useful to understanding how much room you have to grow.”
Those skills are proving even more useful to Levatich now, as he leads initiatives at the motor company to position Harley-Davidson
“There’s still more work to do,” he cautions. “But it’s good work. Am I working hard? Yeah. Am I learning a ton? Yeah. That’s what’s kept me here and that’s what will continue to keep me here.”
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of Kellogg World alumni magazine.