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Harley-Davidson’s CEO is leading an all-American company through a global trade war

Harley-Davidson CEO Matthew Levatich will speak at Code Conference 2019 about his company’s plans to shift some production outside the US.

Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump stand beside motorcycles and greet Harley Davidson CEO Matthew Levatich on the South Lawn of the White House, February 2, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Harley Davidson CEO Matthew Levatich meeting President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in 2017. Levatich will be speaking onstage at Recode’s Code Conference 2019 on Monday, June 10, 2019.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Shirin Ghaffary is a senior Vox correspondent covering the social media industry. Previously, Ghaffary worked at BuzzFeed News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and TechCrunch.

Matthew Levatich is the CEO of one of the most all-American brands there is: Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

It’s only fitting, then, that he should find his company at the center of an all-American debate about global trade, taxes, and manufacturing that has resulted in Twitter callouts from President Trump.

Recode co-founder and editor-at-large Kara Swisher will get into all that and more with Levatich onstage at Recode’s Code Conference on Monday.

So how did Harley become involved in trade wars? Back in 2017, the Republican-led Congress passed tax cuts that lowered corporate tax rates by 14 percent. Republicans sold the bill with promises that, in exchange for the tax cuts, US companies would grow their workforce on home shores — specifically calling out Harley-Davidson as an example of a company that would keep more jobs in America.

Not long after, Harley-Davidson ended up shifting production of some of its motorcycles overseas, and it shut down its Kansas City factory. The company cited the Trump administration’s trade policies, such as levying tariffs on European products and ditching international trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as the reason for some of the changes.

President Trump was less than pleased, taking to Twitter to air his grievances:

Levatich, who began working at Harley-Davidson as a manufacturing project engineer back in 1994, has so far stayed relatively tight-lipped on the matter, refraining from engaging in a public back-and-forth. Under his leadership, the company has been expanding its customer base in growing markets overseas such as India.

We plan to ask him about Harley-Davidson’s manufacturing plans, how the company is expanding its business internationally, and how he feels about being the target of high-profile social media attention from our commander-in-chief. Levatich will join Swisher onstage at 3:35 pm PT on Monday, June 10.

For more background, read our explainer and other coverage on the Harley-Davidson trade war.

How to watch the full interview: Each and every onstage interview at Code will be available to watch in full on Recode’s YouTube channel in the coming days.

You can also get live updates and breaking news from the stage. Follow Recode on Twitter so you don’t miss a beat. We’ll be live-tweeting our onstage interview with Levatich using #CodeCon. We’ll also feature some exclusive behind-the-scenes highlights from the conference on Instagram.

Recode and Vox have joined forces to uncover and explain how our digital world is changing — and changing us. Subscribe to Recode podcasts to hear Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka lead the tough conversations the technology industry needs today.

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