Harley-Davidson CEO discusses the future of Homecoming events in Milwaukee

Jochen Zeitz and Paul James.

Last updated on July 18th, 2023 at 05:16 pm

Thousands of Harley-Davidson riders from around the globe descended upon downtown Milwaukee this past weekend all with one goal in mind: to celebrate 120 years of the iconic motorcycle brand.

On Saturday, the company’s president and chief executive officer, Jochen Zeitz, was joined by Bill Davidson (vice president of the Harley-Davidson Museum) and Karen Davidson (creative director) for a media panel that touched on topics ranging from the future of Harley’s Homecoming Festival anniversary celebrations in Milwaukee to how the company is striving to innovate.

Traditionally held every five years, the Homecoming event in Milwaukee will become an annual gathering beginning next year. Zeitz said the dates for next year have already been set: July 25-28, 2024. The 2024 Homecoming event will honor Bill ‘Willie G.’ Davidson, the company’s former senior vice president and chief styling officer.

“We want to make this into one of the biggest motorcycle rallies every year like other big rallies in America,” said Zeitz.

Harley-Davidson announced in 2022 that this year’s event would mark the transition from having a homecoming gathering every five years to every year.

“There are big rallies going on all over the world, why would we just have a rally every five years in our hometown? Let’s have a big party (every year) – that’s the plan,” said Zeitz.

As for the future of the company, Zeitz said Harley’s leadership must continue to find ways to innovate while honoring the long history of the brand.

“If you’re not innovating and evolving as a company you wouldn’t be around for 120 years,” he said. “The future is always the biggest challenge. I think that’s our job as the custodian of this brand and the company. To continue to evolve and innovate and cherish the past.”

The company’s most recent innovation has been the creation of LiveWire Group, a publicly traded electric motorcycle company spun off from Harley-Davidson. Displays and demos featuring the LiveWire Del Mar motorcycles were ongoing throughout this year’s homecoming celebration. Zeitz said LiveWire is a new experience for the company, but a necessary one.

“We’ve chosen to bring this experience to riders who might not yet be Harley riders – or might never become a Harley rider which is fine too,” he said. “But we wanted to make sure we stay ahead of the curve and we innovate with a separate brand that’s part of the family of Harley-Davidson but is leading the electrification of the sport. I think that’s what LiveWire is doing. I think it’s a huge opportunity. If you don’t innovate and prepare what the future might bring to you, you’re risking the future of the company.”

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Ashley covers startups, technology and manufacturing for BizTimes. She was previously the managing editor of the News Graphic and Washington County Daily News. In past reporting roles, covering education at The Waukesha Freeman, she received several WNA awards. She is a UWM graduate. In her free time, Ashley enjoys watching independent films, tackling a new recipe in the kitchen and reading a good book.

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