Levi's CEO Chip Bergh '79 offers advice during campus talk Twitter
You may remember Dockers. That brand launched in 1986 just when start-ups were popping up on the West Coast. Those workers were not interested in wearing business suits. Dockers khakis become a billion dollar brand. By the mid 1990’s, Dockers stopped innovating and advertising. They became commoditized as every business rushed to put out the cheapest pair of khakis on the shelf. Today Dockers is a $350 million brand. They lost their story and then the consumer. When you lose your mojo, it’s an uphill climb back to the top.
Here are five ways to keep your mojo.
Listen to Customers
I started at Procter and Gamble as a general manager over a few brands, including Comet. At the time, the cleanser had 50 percent of the market share. I watched that erode over a few years to 20 percent as Clorox introduced Soft Scrub. Household surfaces were changing, and we had lost touch with our consumers. They didn’t want or need a harsh cleanser anymore, and lives had changed as dual-income households had couples with less time to clean. We went on a consumer-learning journey. That’s when the Swiffer was born. The Swiffer dry technology was something we found globally and modified and refined. We used the same technology from our Pampers diapers to develop what would become the Swiffer Wet Jet. Now the Swiffer Dry is a $700 million line of business
Have a Story
Everyone has a Levi’s story. Here’s mine. I was traveling in Germany staying in hostels. Back then, people would wash their clothes by wearing them in the hostel shower, lathering them up, and rinsing them out. You’d hope they would dry overnight so they wouldn’t be too wet when you wore them the next day. I was getting in the shower and set my wallet on the window sill. I washed my clothes and left them out to dry. The next morning, I woke up, remembering my wallet was on the window sill all night. I ran into the bathroom. My wallet was there but my Levi’s were gone.These stories are part of the art and science of being successful. To get those stories, you have to understand the consumer. I was in Bangalore, India, in the apartment of a young woman. I asked her to bring out her jeans. She laid them out, and we talked about each pair and when she wears them. When she got to her Levi’s, she had two pairs. The last one she talked about made her wistful. She said that pair didn’t even fit her anymore, but she couldn’t part with them. That pair had too many memories. She then said, “You wear other jeans, but you live in your Levi’s.” That phrase became the slogan for our campaign.
Develop an Innovative Spirit
When I took over as Levi’s president and CEO, I made an innovation center. Our headquarters are in San Francisco, the global capital of innovation. Google, a neighbor in our city, had developed a conductive fiber that could be woven into a garment. Seeing we had an innovation center, they called us. Over the last 18 months, the two teams worked to create a connective trucker jacket that links to your phone, and with a tap or swipe of the sleeve, you can answer calls, control music, and anything else you may want. It’s on the market now. We sent the first one off the line to the Smithsonian Institute. Will it be successful? Not sure it will sell, but conductive clothes are the future. Its success for me is how it changed the culture of our company. Over its development, the jacket failed. One time it caught on fire. The Levi’s team would say this won’t work while the Google team would be excited by a new challenge to solve. The Levi’s team began to catch that same innovative spirit.
Get Your Hands Dirty
My time in ROTC taught me a lot about leadership. I had a platoon of commissioned and enlisted men, many of whom were Vietnam vets. They may have to salute you and call you sir, but it doesn’t mean they respect, trust, or follow you. I had to earn that. To do so, I rolled up my sleeves and served as a role model. We ran drills, and I did all that they did, filled in for some of their team members, worked in every position. I got my hands dirty. I had gone to jump school prior to basic training. The first person out of a plane with a parachute is the most vulnerable. Maybe you jumped too soon to hit the target. Maybe the enemy will shoot you first. As a leader, you have to be first out the door. And the last person to eat at meals.
Goals + Execution
As a manager, it’s important to connect the team’s work to the company’s goals. So you create context that gives them the clear conditions for success. Then it is all about execution. You have to execute.