When Charles “Chip” Bergh ’79 became president and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. in 2011, the iconic American company’s sales had dropped from a peak in 1996 of $7.1 billion to the $4 billion range through the 2000s.
He is focused on driving both top and bottom line growth every year for the San Francisco apparel giant, which operates in 110 countries. Total sales last year were $4.6 billion, and in the first quarter sales were up four percent at $1.16 billion from the prior year.
Debt and “some bad choices,” including failing to seize on the premium jeans market, stifled the company, says Bergh, an international affairs graduate, who is shown at a company Community Day celebration with paper airplanes made of reused paper from headquarters to emphasize the company’s commitment to sustainability.
Bergh traces some of his business sensibilities back to Lafayette, where he studied under Ilan Peleg, Dana Professor of Government and Law, and Robert Weiner, Jones Professor of History.
Weiner’s take-home essay exams spurred his best thinking. “I pulled all-nighters,” he recalls. “It forced me to do the research, think through the issues, and answer the questions thoughtfully.
“I got a well-grounded liberal arts degree with a lot of exposure to different fields,” adds Bergh.
Prior to Levi Strauss, Bergh spent 28 years at Procter & Gamble, where he rose to group president for the global male grooming unit. He has enjoyed a lifelong friendship with his Theta Chi roommate, Joshua Werner ’79, now an attorney in Boston.
CORRECTION: This article was updated on July 24 to correct factual errors that appear in the print edition stating that profits tumbled $3 billion and that the company was in the red.