Executive Director of Brasilia Harley Davidson – Marcela Costa e Silva
From dance teams to riding a Harley with her pet Pomeranian in tow – Marcela Costa e Silva is full of surprises.
When someone mentions Harley Davidson, the image that comes to mind is usually that of a big bellied, bearded man head-to-toe in leathers. But Marcela Costa e Silva is so far from that image, and it’s a breath of fresh air. She’s a woman to start with, with blonde hair, a whole bunch of dance training under her belt and, most notably, over a decade’s worth of experience working in the banking and automotive industries. And now, she’s the Executive Director of Brasilia Harley Davidson – the brand’s dealership in Brazil’s capital city.
Not what you’d expect? That’s exactly what we love about her. After studying and working in São Paulo for 14 years, Marcela headed back to her home – a city close to Brasilia – where she took on her current role. And we want to catch up with the woman who, quite literally, is changing the face of Harley Davidson from all the way across the Atlantic.
You've been the Executive Director at Brasilia Harley Davidson for the past two years – tell us a bit about what you do?
I get involved in everything! Marketing, sales, events – literally anything. People have this image of Harley Davidson (the big beards and bellies aforementioned) but the brand has moved on – especially with electric bikes. It’s a whole new market and it isn’t just about the bikes, it’s the whole lifestyle – the way you dress and everything. It’s a lot of fun and we’re constantly trying to attract younger people which we’re succeeding at.
Your career started in the banking industry, so how did you move to Harley Davidson? Were you always interested in them as a brand? What attracted you to the company?
My family has 20 dealerships in different cities and one of them is Harley Davidson. My dad is the CEO and when I moved back to grow the family business, he thought the best fit for me was here – and thankfully he was right!
Lots of people dream of having a Harley, it represents freedom and unity, which I love about the brand. It’s about making people’s dreams come true. We also have a lot of women who drive Harleys here. We call them the “Ladies of Harley” and here in Brasilia there’s a big group of about 100 of us who ride together. It’s great to be a part of that. The bikes aren’t only for men – a lot of women buy the big bikes which I think can surprise people and I love that.
Did you have your license before you started? Or was that something that came with the job?
Actually I got it when I moved as Brasilia is a great city for bikes. The streets are large and there are plenty of places to park, whereas the traffic in São Paulo is crazy so it wasn’t possible for me to ride there. I have a beautiful bike – it has a really retro look!
You mentioned that having a Harley is a dream for lots of people. I once read about how strong a brand it is and that a lot of people even get HD tattoos, is that true?
Yes! It’s one of the most popular tattoos in the world. I saw an article that said the Harley Davidson logo is the second most popular tattoo in the world after the religious cross. My dad says it’s like a religion (laughs). People get really obsessed about it.
And why do you think that is?
It’s something that seems to be filtered from the father to the children. Being almost 120 years old and having a strong heritage definitely has something to do with it but another point of difference is the HOG (Harley Owners Group). It’s a motorbike club you can join when you own a Harley. You get a patch that you stitch to your clothes and that makes you feel part of the group.
You also get different badges for the amount of miles you drive and everybody wants to get those badges – it’s like a cult! We go out riding every weekend together and then we have a big brunch back at the store. You can meet HD ‘family members’ all over the world – that gives people a real sense of belonging and that’s what sets it apart. Everyone is so interested in the brand and I love that. The HOG has been a really powerful marketing idea from the very beginning.
Tell us something about Harley Davidson that not many people know
It doesn’t sell itself, it’s a lot of hard work. I think people think my life is just a lot of fun but it’s a lot of work, too. There’s a lot that goes into it and so much to organise, but I love it.
There’s a lot of different components to the stores – there’s the bikes, the service area, the clothes, the collections – and I have to make a lot of the decisions. We have to think about all of the elements of the rides too – like the safety of the riders. But it’s also about people’s dreams which is a lot of fun. You get to witness someone who’s dreamed about buying a bike their whole life actually buying one. And we cheer them on – it’s awesome.
What is the gender balance like at HD? I imagine it to be quite male dominated, is that correct? If so, does that impact or benefit you in any way?
Well I’m the only woman in the Brasilia business, and across the world there aren’t many women. But it is changing. And in terms of people riding, it’s probably about 60% men and 40% women – so that’s a lot of women. Often women ride on the back of their husband’s or boyfriend’s bike and, after a year or so, they’ll decide to get their own bike. That’s a really nice thing to see.
Often women ride on the back of their boyfriend’s bike and, after some time, they’ll decide to get their own bike. That’s a really nice thing to see.
That’s so interesting! Did Harley adapt to that and make bikes that were more suitable for women?
We have a few models that have seats that are a bit lower but they’re not made for women as such. All bikes are made for both genders. Some women don’t think they can’t handle a big bike but once they start riding them, they realise they can.
Did you find it challenging to be accepted into such a male-dominated business?
I’ve always faced this – even when I was in banking. I think some clients were unsure but I wouldn’t say they didn’t like it. They were just unsure, but once they realised I was up to the job that uncertainty disappeared.
I’m also really close to my team – I don’t behave like I’m superior. Especially when I started as I had to ask them for help. For example, I moved my desk from the top floor to the sales floor, in the middle of where my team is. I basically don’t have my own office anymore, but it’s much better like that as I’m not separated from the team or the customers.
You mentioned your work in the banking industry, you worked as a trader through the financial crisis which must have been stressful. What were the biggest lessons you took from that experience?
Well in that industry you deal with crisis situations a lot, so you have to learn from them. I see it as a time to rebuild yourself and to think outside the box – much like we all have during the pandemic. I’ve had to shrink my team, which was really hard, and it also meant that everyone that now works on the team has to do multiple things. It’s about being adaptable – you have to be able to recreate yourself.
You met Anna (Hedoine’s Co-Founder) when you were exchange students in your teens – tell us a bit about that.
Yes, that was already 20 years ago! It was amazing. We met in El Paso as exchange students and we went to the same high school where we had a great time. We’ve kept in touch ever since!
Anna mentioned you were always very sporty. Tell us a bit about your lifestyle.
I was a professional ballet dancer so I got into the dance team as an exchange student and we performed in lots of places. Also, I used to run like crazy – 10km or so a day – but now my body doesn’t respond well to it anymore so I do different things but I do work out every day as it really helps me to unwind.
I usually get up at 5am, meditate for 30 minutes each morning, then do an hour of yoga and then I work out together with my boyfriend. I do this sequence every day without fail – Monday to Friday – and it’s as much for my mind as my body. It’s for my mental health as it makes me feel a lot calmer and able to approach the day ahead.
Do you think that’s a big part of your success?
Yes I do. Also discipline – you have to have discipline. I think that’s key to being successful.
You have a very special companion who has her very own Instagram account – a Pomeranian named Nena. How did you two meet/what made you choose her?
I do! Nena is ten years old and she’s my partner for life (laughs). She comes to work with me every day – she’s such a good dog and so calm. She also comes on my bike with me. I have a Harley Davidson bag that goes on the back seat but I had it reconfigured so she can sit inside it and she goes everywhere with me – I don’t go anywhere that doesn’t welcome animals.
I trust myself and I tell people to do the same. You know your own power, and you have to be the person to believe in you.
What do you think makes you a real Hedoine?
I think it’s about trusting yourself. I trust myself and I tell people to do the same. You have to be confident – don’t listen to other people. You know your own power, and you have to be the person to believe in you. I think it’s that attitude and having that confidence that makes me a Hedoine.
You can keep up with Marcela on LinkedIn here and Nena on Instagram here. While you’re here, share this article with someone who you think it might inspire or sign up to our newsletter to be the first to know when the next Real Hedoine lands on the blog.