Women seeking Levis

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He went on a listening tour, conversing with each of the top 60 executives, asking them what three things absolutely must change and what three things must not. But he also saw that a lack of urgency, of financial discipline, and of data discipline permeated the culture. In a new facility was opened four blocks from headquarters in San Francisco. It was a high-visibility asment, so I started to get calls about CEO jobs.

Women seeking Levis

Then, in lateI was at a hotel in Beijing for a quarterly meeting of our leadership team. A headhunter I knew called. It was a brand I grew up with and had an emotional attachment to. The story of its founding is well known: Launched as a dry-goods retailer during the California gold rush, the company got a breakthrough in the s, when it patented the use of rivets to strengthen the seams in denim work pants, inventing blue jeans.

But as I began doing research to prepare for my first meeting with its board chairman, I was surprised by what I found. Its financial performance had been erratic for a decade. Although I worked in consumer packaged goods, I was intrigued by the apparel industry as a result of my time on the board of VF which owns the Lee and Wrangler jeans brands. After a long dinner with the chairman of Levi Strauss, I could see this was a great opportunity. I was 54 years old and ready for a change. I wanted to leave a legacy and make the company great again.

I had e-mailed them my questions beforehand: What are three things we should not change? What are three things we absolutely must change? After about 15 or 20 of those meetings, I had a pretty clear sense of the problems. It was obvious that they were rowing in different directions.

Women seeking Levis

But two other things really were. I was shocked. A lack of urgency, of financial discipline, and of data discipline permeated the culture.

Women seeking Levis

I took my listeners through why I believed that the company was underperforming and why we had an opportunity—and an obligation—to do better. Succeeding would require ificant cultural change. The second surprise was related to the first. Every new CEO expects to make a few changes in the top leadership team, especially when coming in from the outside. But I was astonished by how many of my team members I needed to replace. When I arrived, I had 11 direct reports. Within 18 months nine of them were gone, and only one of the other two is still here today.

We now have a world-class executive team that I would put up against that of any other company in the world. Even as I worked to understand what was going on inside Levi Strauss, I studied the market and our customers. During my second month in the job, I visited Bangalore and asked our people there to set up an in-home visit. An in-home typically starts with broad questions about lifestyle and interests and then narrows down to how the customer uses the product and views the category. I find them incredibly useful, even though the insights gained are qualitative.

The customer I met with was a year-old professional woman from an upper-middle-class family. The woman spoke perfect English and had attended Cambridge. She had about 10 pairs of jeans—Hudson, Guess, Calvin Klein, and some others. We went into her room, and she pulled them out of her wardrobe. To me, her words captured the essence of our brand. That experience is an illustration of how much value can come from listening to consumers. Devising one was my top priority during those early months. I tortured the finance department, asking it to slice and restack the data to help me understand how we could create a plan to grow revenue and profits.

About six months after I arrived, we rolled out the plan. It had four key pieces, each of them memorable and easy to understand:. This part of our business has high market share but relatively low growth. The rule of thumb in apparel is that most people buy three or four tops for every bottom, but our s were just the opposite.

Women seeking Levis

We also had very low sales in developing markets such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China. That represented an opportunity. But in our own retail stores, of course, we controlled the experience, and we got higher margins on sales. So we needed to grow sales in our brick-and-mortar stores and on our website as well—because over time more apparel sales would be online. We needed to cut costs, drive cash flow, and become more data driven and financially disciplined to free up money to invest in technology and innovation.

When I arrived, we were spending more on interest payments than on advertising, which makes it difficult to grow a brand. One of the first places we reinvested the savings from our new strategy was in our Eureka Innovation Lab. The lab was in Corlu, Turkey, colocated with one of our factories. To me, this was crazy. Almost all our deers were in San Francisco, where the company is headquartered. To get to Corlu from San Francisco took more than 12 hours, so people would go for a week or two, once or twice a year.

We spent a fortune shipping samples back and forth, because apparel innovation is iterative and tactile. How could an apparel company put such a low priority on innovation? Our innovation lab was in Turkey—12 hours away. To me this was crazy. We decided to open a new facility four blocks from our headquarters.

Women seeking Levis

I ed off on it anyway, because I figured that if we created the right environment, something huge would come out of it. It drives me crazy that women wear yoga pants to nice restaurants—denim would look so much better.

I told our deers that we had to fix this problem. Consumers loved the stretch, the comfort, the soft fabric, and the way they looked in the new des. In marketing our products we tried to find the right balance between highlighting our heritage and being contemporary. If a seasoned brand dwells too much on its history, it can feel old and dusty. I spent time looking at other successful brands, such as Converse and Ray-Ban, that leverage their heritage. One example of the way we meld old and new is our iconic trucker jacket.

In I became a viral sensation for an offhand comment I made at a conference on sustainability. I wash them every few months by hand and line dry them, which is what we recommend. I expect that my supposed anti-laundry stance will be mentioned in my obituary. The learning curve has been steeper than I expected. I thought my brand-building experience would translate directly to this job—and it has in some ways—but the cycle times and the pace of innovation are much different in apparel.

At Gillette we launched the Fusion razor inand the first upgrade was in Today one-third of our business comes from selling direct to consumers via our website and company-owned retail locations.

Women seeking Levis

When a company is in decline for 10 years, something perverse happens to its culture. It all starts with having the right people and unleashing them to tackle some of the biggest challenges. The company is making good progress.

Everywhere I look I see upside. You have 1 free article s left this month. You are reading your last free article for this month.

Women seeking Levis

Subscribe for unlimited access. The company needed a new strategy and a ificant culture change. Jessica Chou. A version of this article appeared in the July—August issue pp. on Strategy or related topics Growth strategy and Product development. Partner Center. Levi Strauss dies and four nephews inherit the company. Khaki pants and coats are introduced. The San Francisco earthquake and fire destroy company headquarters. The first jeans for women are introduced. The Levi Strauss Foundation is formed. Levi Strauss International is established. The company launches its Care Tag for Our Planet initiative.

Chip Bergh becomes president and CEO.

Women seeking Levis

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