Yes, Harley IS Closing… Sort Of

Yes, Harley IS Closing… Sort Of

An interesting piece of news came out of Milwaukee a few weeks ago, and like so many things “Harley” there are several ways to take it.

Harley-Davidson Inc.’s top executive Jochen Zeitz said the company will “repurpose” its historic 500,000-square-foot headquarters on Milwaukee’s west side later this year.  The CEO didn’t provide any further details, but, coming on the heels of the sale of the LiveWire project, you almost can’t help but nod your approval.

The truth is, Harley has used the old factory as their headquarters for decades, and by now, should own it free and clear.  With so many traditional “office jobs” moving to remote work, I can see where Mother Davidson gets a lot of interesting options for this iconic building.

They could sell it outright to be redeveloped – Porsche’s project at the old Ford factory at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is a great example of this, and literally dozens of other mixed-use projects like this have been done all over the world.

Harley wouldn’t even have to sell the property, either.  They could joint-venture it with a developer and use it as another cash cow along those same lines of redevelopment.

Yes, Harley IS Closing… Sort OfOn the other hand, since it is “the place” where the first bikes were built in William C. Davidson’s backyard, there’s a lot of history there, too.

It’s THE first factory.

In theory, it could be donated to the state as a historical landmark and the value written off the books.  Sure, that’s unlikely, but Jochen Zeitz has done a lot of unconventional things in his career, and many of them have worked out pretty well.

…But enough about Monday-morning quarterbacking this thing.  Here’s what I really like:  this decision is, to me as a layman, an acknowledgement that corporate is the tail of the dog, and despite what too many people in corporate positions think, the tail doesn’t wag the dog.

Too many times, in my former working life, we dealt with “corporate” showing up from their ivory towers and dictating what we should and shouldn’t be doing based on what a book or a manual said, not how things operated in the real world.  Truth be told?  I’ll bet Zeitz has figured out there’s a lot of bloat in the management structure at H-D (like most American manufacturing, sadly) and is getting ready to quietly trim the fat off the Hog.

…And there’s still another way to look at this:  remote work is how business is getting done today.  Younger employees – the people who will lead companies into the next decades and create careers with businesses expect to have the option for remote work, and frankly?

You’ll find a far larger pool of applicants who can “do” the work of management and leadership if you’re willing to hire far from home.  Milwaukee, no offense, isn’t a big destination city on a lot of people’s bucket list.

All in all, Zeitz keep throwing us curveballs, but I can’t help but think he might be on to something.  If nothing else, I have to approve of the fact he’s making decisions instead of simply allowing his company to sink in tough economic times.  Maybe these will work, maybe they won’t, but it’s certainly entertaining to watch and guess.

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