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Jul 9, 2020

Harley-Davidson cuts 700 jobs, loses CFO in restructuring push

Harley-Davidson Inc. motorcycles stand on display at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, March 23, 2018. The show runs until March 25. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

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Harley-Davidson Inc. will eliminate 700 positions -- about 12 per cent of its global workforce -- as its new chief executive officer tries to shrink the motorcycle maker into a nimbler and more profitable company.

The cuts affect roughly 500 current employees and will cost about US$50 million in restructuring expenses, according to a regulatory filing. Harley also announced that John Olin, a 17-year veteran of the company, is immediately stepping down as chief financial officer.

Jochen Zeitz, a Harley board member and former CEO of sneaker company Puma SE, won plaudits in April with plans to cut costs and narrow the manufacturer’s focus on its core markets and model segments. He took over the top job at Harley the following month after initially handling the role on an interim basis.

After a five-year U.S. sales slump under former CEO Matt Levatich, Zeitz has teased plans to “rewire” the company. He will disclose more details about his turnaround bid during Harley’s second-quarter earnings call later this month, and a longer-term strategy will be presented in the fourth quarter.

“The Rewire is progressing very well and substantial work is being done to eliminate complexity and get Harley-Davidson on a path to winning,” Zeitz said in a statement. “Our new operating model is simpler, more focused and enables faster decisions across the entire company.”

Harley announced last month it would eliminate approximately 140 production jobs at facilities in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to adjust to lower sales volumes. U.S. motorcycle deliveries fell 16 per cent in the first quarter, with only the tail end of that period being affected by pandemic-related shutdowns across the country.

About US$42 million of Harley’s restructuring costs will be incurred in the second quarter. The company said that Olin will be replaced on an interim basis by Darrell Thomas, who will continue to serve as treasurer.

Harley shares have surged more than 30 per cent since Zeitz first addressed investors during its first-quarter earnings call in April. The stock fell 0.6 per cent as of 12:35 p.m. Thursday in New York trading.