Alumnus, Harley-Davidson rep shares memories from time at Northwestern

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Alumnus, Harley-Davidson rep shares memories from time at Northwestern

Mark-Hans Richer (Weinberg ‘89) speaks Wednesday while holding a Willie the Wildcat stuffed animal. Richer shared stories of his time at Northwestern, including his invention of the stuffed animal when he needed a gift to bring home to his sister.

Mark-Hans Richer (Weinberg ‘89) speaks Wednesday while holding a Willie the Wildcat stuffed animal. Richer shared stories of his time at Northwestern, including his invention of the stuffed animal when he needed a gift to bring home to his sister.

Tyler Pager/The Daily Northwestern

Mark-Hans Richer (Weinberg ‘89) speaks Wednesday while holding a Willie the Wildcat stuffed animal. Richer shared stories of his time at Northwestern, including his invention of the stuffed animal when he needed a gift to bring home to his sister.

Tyler Pager/The Daily Northwestern

Tyler Pager/The Daily Northwestern

Mark-Hans Richer (Weinberg ‘89) speaks Wednesday while holding a Willie the Wildcat stuffed animal. Richer shared stories of his time at Northwestern, including his invention of the stuffed animal when he needed a gift to bring home to his sister.

Tyler Pager, Reporter

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Students, faculty and alumni on Wednesday learned how a former history major who created a Willie the Wildcat stuffed animal became the senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Harley-Davidson.

The story came from Mark-Hans Richer (Weinberg ’89) who spoke to around 50 people in Technological Institute as part of the Harvey Kapnick Business Institutions Program’s Lehman Brothers Lecture series.

“Everything that I ever learned in business, I learned from the Willie the Wildcat stuffed animal,” Richer said.

At the end of the Fall Quarter of his freshman year, Richer was looking for holiday gifts to bring home to his family. Naturally, he said, he wanted the gifts to be Northwestern-related, and because his sister liked stuffed animals, he was planning to get one for her. However, he couldn’t find one. As a result, he decided to create and sell a Willie the Wildcat stuffed animal.

“I thought it would be cool,” he said. “All of my friends thought I was absolutely out of my mind, but if you haven’t scared your friends, you aren’t trying hard enough.”

Richer’s first roadblock was acquiring a $35,000 loan, but after a successful pitch to a local bank and his father agreeing to cosign using his credit, Richer was in business.

“I got to embarrass myself in the basement of Norris behind a sign that says, ‘Willie gets stuffed,’ and have a student from England comes up to me and makes fun of it because that means something very different over there,” he said.

After graduating from NU, Richer had no idea what he wanted to do, so he used the money from the Willie the Wildcat stuffed animals to travel around the world. He took a job at a local bowling alley once he returned home. 

“I have no marketable skills theoretically because I was a history major,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out what to do with myself, and then I asked one question of one person who I met at Northwestern that changed my life. I asked my roommate, ‘Bob, what do you think I’m good at?’ He said, ‘I think you’d be good at advertising.’ So I went into advertising.”

The only experience he had was from marketing Willie the Wildcat, but it was good enough to land him a job at DDB Needham Advertising. From there, he moved on to General Motors and then was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Achievement in 2006.

After sharing his story, Richer emphasized the importance of asking good questions.

“From my view, what I learned in school was not what the answers were,” he said. “I wasn’t good at knowing what the answers were in most of my courses, but I learned how to ask good questions.”

Richer also stressed the importance of knowing that life is not linear — a lesson that stayed with Weinberg freshman James Rovituso after the lecture.

“It’s all right to be unsure of what you want to do with your life,” he said.

Rovituso, who is planning to major in economics, said he attended the event because of NU’s reputation of bringing in quality speakers.

Economics Prof. Mark Witte, the director of the Business Institutions Program, said he appreciated Richer’s advice.

“I think he encouraged us to listen to our own best angels and to take the chances we feel we should take even if we are afraid,” Witte said.

Email: tylerpager2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @tylerpager

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