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Northwestern University

Paths: What Did You Do with Your Arts and Sciences Degree?

Mark-Hans Richer ’89 followed the open road to Harley-Davidson

Mark-Hans RicherIf you were to draw a line connecting point A to point B, it might make perfect sense for a history major to end up as the chief marketing officer for Harley-Davidson, one of America’s most historic brands. 

But for Mark-Hans Richer, the line took a few scenic stops along the way.

“Career development is not a linear thing, and neither is finding your passion in life,” explains Richer, who as an entrepreneurial freshman created — and marketed — a Willie the Wildcat stuffed animal after he was unable to find one for his sister. “Hopefully your work can be your passion, and it’s the individual’s responsibility to figure out what that passion is. That’s what I love about my current job — the history that runs through the brand and the passion you see for Harley all over the world.”

While a business degree might have provided more “focus,” Richer credits his arts and sciences education with teaching him how to ask questions and identify key patterns among people. “History actually becomes quite a good base for understanding the world and exploring what it has to offer,” he says.

So, after graduation, that’s exactly what Richer did.

“I had no plan, no job,” he explains. “I had some money I had made from my business at school, so I just went around the world and didn’t come back until my money ran out. I wanted to get first-hand exposure to all these places I had only read about.”

When he returned and began to think about a career, a friend suggested Richer build upon his Willie the Wildcat success and give advertising a try. With the world wide open, he thought, “Why not?”

It was not something Richer had trained for, but something his friend felt he’d be good at. “It ended up being good intuition,” Richer says, explaining how he landed a job at DDB Needham Advertising. 

Four years later, Richer took a leave of absence from the firm to travel across Africa in a truck. “Many people thought I was kind of nuts, stepping off the career track,” he recalls. “But I felt strongly that this was the right decision, and I don’t think it negatively impacted me in any way. Just the opposite.”

From DDB Needham, Richer moved on to do marketing at General Motors. His accomplishments there drew the attention of Harley-Davidson, which appointed him chief marketing officer and senior vice president in 2007.

Where will Richer be when he gets to point C, D or Z?

“I didn’t know in 1989 and I don’t know in 2014,” Richer says playfully. “But it’s worked out pretty well so far, so I think I’m sticking with that plan.” 

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