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The BoF Podcast: Inside Chip Bergh’s Levi’s Turnaround

In the latest episode of Inside Fashion, Levi’s chief executive Chip Bergh talks to Imran Amed about his 30-year career, overhauling the denim brand and what it takes to be a great CEO.

LONDON, United Kingdom — “The Levi’s brand is clearly back,” Chip Bergh, chief executive of Levi Strauss & Co., tells Imran Amed. “We are having a moment, and it is a moment that I believe we can sustain for a number of years.”

After a 28-year career at Procter & Gamble, Bergh joined Levi's in 2011 where he was tasked with reviving the American denim brand, which was disrupted by the arrival of fast fashion and the decline of the wholesale channel. After 12 consecutive quarters of growth in a row, the women’s business has hit $1 billion in sales and is undergoing a renaissance, marrying heritage with a brand of cool that appeals to Gen-Z. But the task wasn’t easy, says Bergh, since “it was also obvious that we didn’t have a strategy, everybody was doing their own thing and we had a certain amount of arrogance.”

Implementing a four-fold strategy was the solution after the business went from $7.1 billion to $4.1 billion in sales in five years, as a surge of new competitors — fast-fashion companies and premium denim specialists — attacked it from all sides. While the brand remained loved, it was weighed down by poor management and lack of innovation. “There are basically four pieces to it: grow a profitable core, expand for more, become a leading world-class omnichannel retailer and achieve operational productivity gains," Bergh says.

But standing up for social issues is also important as a leader, particularly since “governments have backed away from their responsibilities to their people and to humanity [and] that void needs to be filled by somebody,” is Bergh’s stance on immigration.

Listen to Chip Bergh talk to Imran Amed about the Amazon threat and opportunity, what it takes to be a great chief executive in an environment of uncertainty, and what are the disciplines and skillsets that companies like Levi’s are looking for in the next generation of talent.

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