by Phoebe Wall Howard from https://www.freep.com
Ford CEO Jim Farley, owner of two classic Harley-Davidson motorcycles, has agreed to serve on the board of the Milwaukee-based company.
The director nomination was submitted Friday by the motorcycle manufacturer’s CEO Jochen Zeitz as part of the 2021 Notice of the Annual Meeting of Shareholders and Proxy Statement, released in advance of the May 20 vote.
Farley is the only new board nominee. If approved, he would join executives with diverse corporate backgrounds that include Levi Strauss, Ocean5, Starbucks, he Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ABB Robotics and the Cummins engine and technology company.
“Jochen’s vision to bring adventure to a wider audience in different forms resonates with me. I’m honored to be nominated for a seat on the Harley-Davidson board,” Farley told the Free Press on Saturday.
“It’s also good for Ford, another chance for us to learn from one of the best,” he said. “This is a legendary American brand with a proud global history and enduring values. Like Ford, they now want to transform how people move, including new customers —through always-on relationships, new technologies and must-have products and services.”
Zeitz and Farley, both 58, run iconic American manufacturing brands in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve had to cut jobs, restructure and redefine their legacies.
Zeitz is a turnaround expert who transformed Puma from near bankruptcy to a top athletic brand globally. He took the top job at Harley-Davidson in May. Farley assumed the top job at Ford in October.
Not only does Farley collect classic cars, but he also owns and rides Harley-Davidson bikes: a 1930 Knucklehead and a 1942 WLA Navy bike. He restored both bikes with a lot of help from his friends. Farley is known for working on classics himself.
“Jim Farley is cut from the cloth of Harley-Davidson. He is a working person’s CEO who likes to race cars,” said Marick Masters, a business professor at the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University in Detroit. “His adventurous spirit captures the essence of Harley-Davidson. … Farley brings a drive and energy to complement the Harley-Davidson brand.”
These days, Harley-Davidson is looking to find new consumers and shore up its financials. The brand thrived during World War II making motorcycles for the U.S. military. Later, the bikes evolved into a symbol of counterculture.
“The world’s youth were out on the road seeking freedom, and the motorcycle was as sure a vehicle as any to offer a quick hit of it,” said the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum website for its 1998 exhibition, “The Art of the Motorcycle.” “Rebellion became fashion, and Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the motorcycle industry capitalized as never before.”
The ad campaign for Peter Fonda’s 1969 film “Easy Rider” proclaimed, “A man went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere,” a sentiment that could be expanded to embrace the entire decade, the Guggenheim said.
By 2018, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle averaged $20,000 and the average buyer age hovered around 50, Business Insider reported.
“Seeing the trials of another classic American brand can help Farley better prepare for potential issues within Ford,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president of AutoForecast Solutions based in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.
“With Harley-Davidson at a very competitive juncture in its industry, having someone with corporate turnaround experience like Farley on the board can only benefit the legendary company,” Fiorani said.
“While automobiles and motorcycles are very different industries, navigating an established brand like Harley-Davidson would be akin to maintaining iconic brands like F-150 or Mustang through changing markets,” he said. “Ford has done an admirable job of securing their history to the present day.”
Harley-Davidson was reborn 40 years ago by concentrating on what made their bikes different, Fiorani said. “Finding a similar direction going forward is necessary for the brand’s long-term survival, and Farley has the history to help guide the company toward that future.”
The iconic nature of Ford and Harley-Davidson isn’t simply incidental, said Harley Shaiken, a labor economist who specializes in global production at the University of California, Berkeley. “Building on their past could be key to their future.”
The two companies have become a part of the American story, “from the Joads driving West in a Model T in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ to Marlon Brando,” who purchased a 1970 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide after filming “The Wild One,” Shaiken said. “So it’s somehow fitting that the CEO of one is now sitting on the board of the other at a tough moment.”
Directors on the Harley-Davidson board earned an annual fee of $91,630 in fiscal year 2020, according to its proxy report. They have the option of receiving all or a portion of their fees in the form of stock.
Farley serves on no other corporate boards of directors except Ford. Farley does represent Ford on the U.S.-China Business Council board of directors and has been appointed co-chair of the Commission on the Future of Mobility.
It is not unusual for CEOs to serve on select boards and develop important business relationships outside their companies. General Motors CEO Mary Barra has served on the board of Walt Disney Co. since 2017.
Ford CEO is cousin of actor Chris Farley — but has another celebrity relative, too – Tripp Tracy a hockey goalie at Harvard University, was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers and later signed with the Hartford Whalers. For the past two decades, he has been the radio and TV color commentator for the Carolina Hurricanes, a Stanley Cup championship winner in 2006.