Claim to fame: vice president of design, Harley-Davidson motorcycles
Diabetes type: 2
Willie G. Davidson is the grandson of William A. Davidson, one of the co-founders of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles. As a designer and later a company leader, Davidson is renowned in the motorcycling world for giving Harley motorcycles the respect and alluring reputation they have today.
Davidson began his career path as a designer, with a degree in art from the University of Wisconsin. Despite growing up around motorcycles, he did not aspire to create custom bike designs until he attended the Art Center College of Design in California. After completing his artistic education, he found design work at the Ford Motor Company and several other automobile retailers until he was offered a job at Harley-Davidson in 1963. Davidson took the job, but his designs were initially met with criticism from company executives, who found them radical and impractical. Nonetheless, he received his break as a designer when Harley-Davidson approved his design for the FX Super Glide, the company’s first custom factory production. The decision proved to be fortuitous, and after the massive success of the FX Super Glide, Davidson was promoted to Vice President of Styling in 1969.
Davidson’s ideas continued to stimulate growth for Harley-Davidson. In the 1980s, Davidson worked tirelessly with several other executives to buy Harley-Davidson back from the failing conglomerate company, AMF. Since then, Davidson’s vision has led to consistent success for the company; his design team has produced many noteworthy models, including the Low Rider, the Heritage Softail Classic, the Fat Boy, the V-Rod, and the Street Glide.
Davidson has type 2 diabetes, and has been wearing hearing aids for twenty-five years. After forty-nine years with Harley-Davidson, he retired from the business on April 30, 2012. Despite his health complications, Davidson continues to make appearances as an ambassador at motorcycle rallies, and inspires riders with his ingenuity and vitality. Davidson has famously lent his support to diabetes-related causes such as the Thunder-Run and Bikers Against Diabetes. Though he is nearly eighty years old, he plans to continue his passion for bike design by working on special Harley projects as Chief Styling Officer emeritus.