Accelerator
October 31, 2018
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An American Original: A Conversation With Levi Strauss & Co’s Chip Bergh

One of the most insightful breakouts during the Fast Company Innovation Festival featured an interview with Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co.

His discussion with MSNBC anchor and NBC News correspondent, Stephanie Ruhle, revealed three super inspirational themes: invest in innovation in spite of financial returns, take a stand for what you believe, and really listen to your consumer.

 

1. Invest in Innovation—in Spite of Financial Returns
When describing Levi’s investment in innovation, Bergh is quick to cite the first large initiative he approved after he became CEO: the creation of Levi’s Eureka Lab. The idea was seen as a zero-net investment at a time when Levi’s was still struggling to reclaim momentum. The Eureka Lab is now credited with helping the company attract some of the most innovative people and partners. For example, the lab birthed the highly acclaimed Google Commuter Jacket that is now a part of the wearable technology collection at the Smithsonian.

 

2. Take a Stand for What you Believe in
Under Bergh’s leadership, Levi’s hasn’t been afraid to take a stand on the most pressing social issues of the day. “We lead with our values. It’s the right thing to do,” said Bergh. He calls this approach “profits through principles.” Since Mr. Bergh took control of the 165-year-old company 7 years ago, Levi’s has leveraged technology to innovate processes that use less water and create less chemical waste. The company has commented on immigration with the “Levi’s Circles” ad (which Bergh calls the best advertising that Levi’s has ever done). Chip even wrote an open letter to gun owners asking them to refrain from bringing guns into Levi’s stores—and followed the letter with the creation of a $1MM fund to help end gun violence.

 

3. Really Listen to Your Consumer
One of the most revealing aspects of the interview was the company’s dedication to insight mining. In one instance, Bergh relayed a story about the importance of consumer insights in developing the Live in Levi’s campaign. In fact, the words “Live in Levi’s” came directly from an Indian woman during an in-home interview that Bergh was conducting. I found it surprising (yet very inspiring) that the CEO of Levi’s himself was in Bangalore, India listening to consumers talk about jeans. This story highlights Levi’s innovation culture that has consumer needs at its core.

 

When you add up the investments in zero-net ventures, controversial stands on social issues and a CEO who takes time to listen to consumers rattle on about jeans, you’d think that Levi’s would be in bad shape. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Levi’s has grown 6 years in a row (recently experiencing 4 consecutive quarters of double-digit growth) and the company’s momentum shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

 

Eric Scheer is SVP, Director of Innovation at Seed Strategy where he leads the Innovation Center of Excellence and focuses on the implementation and advancement of innovation and creative process.

Edited by Adam Siegel. In addition to being the Editor of The Accelerator, Adam is a Creative Director at Seed Strategy where he draws upon his diverse experience in advertising, research and innovation to craft breakthrough creative and winning concept copy.

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