Whereas the notion of getting a function past revenue has taken over style — and has turn into one thing of an organizing precept for contemporary companies — it’s nothing new for Levi Strauss & Co.
The denim icon built-in its factory workforce within the Nineteen Fifties, earlier than desegregation was mandated. In 1992, it turned the primary Fortune 500 firm to provide well being advantages to single home companions. And it has helped maintain the strain up within the courts and the courtroom of public opinion on a variety of social points, from being early to help same-sex marriage to talking out on gun violence and instituting paid household go away. The corporate has additionally pushed to function extra sustainability and is working towards a extra various management workforce and workforce.
Levi’s not solely has a protracted historical past of social engagement, it has been actively constructing on that legacy throughout its enterprise and with vigor — and for that, it’s receiving the WWD Honor for Company Citizenship.
Bergh sees himself as a part of a protracted chain of leaders at Levi’s — stretching each into the previous and the longer term — that together with the remainder of the corporate’s workers is guarding a broader imaginative and prescient of what the model may be.
The CEO described it in an interview as “taking the long-term view and actually believing within your core of being that my position is at the beginning to ensure that this firm is about up to achieve success for the subsequent 168 years.”
That has include some adjustments that don’t add to the underside line.
“There are trade-offs that we’ll face,” Bergh mentioned of balancing function and revenue. “It could include some short-term monetary affect, nevertheless it’s the correct factor to do for the long run. It’s higher to do the more durable proper than the better mistaken.”
The more durable proper is usually, properly, more durable.
And whereas Bergh is aware of he’s as much as it, he’s additionally serving to ensure that the subsequent particular person within the nook affords is as much as it, too.
“It’s a standards that we’re taking a look at for CEO succession,” he mentioned. “You want a CEO who has thick pores and skin, who’s not afraid to stay their neck out for the corporate as a result of it takes thick pores and skin to do it.
“Once we determined to weigh in on the gun violence challenge, I had unmarked police vehicles in entrance of my home for a pair weeks,” he mentioned. “I had loss of life threats, nevertheless it was the correct factor to weigh in on. It was following an incident the place a weapon was by accident discharged in a [Levi’s] dressing room as a man was attempting on a brand new pair of denims and he actually shot himself within the foot. It may have been one other shopper, it may have been a toddler, it may have been one among my workers.”
That’s a dramatic instance, however not the one broader social and company challenge on Levi’s radar that Bergh solid in private phrases.
One other is paid parental go away, which Levi’s instituted in 2016, giving workers eight weeks off through the first yr of getting a brand new youngster in the home.
“My daughter isn’t even 13; when she was born, I slept on the ground within the hospital with my spouse,” Bergh mentioned. “I awoke at 6:30 and went into the workplace.” And so Bergh missed out on some key bonding time together with his lately expanded household.
“I feel that is among the strongest issues I did,” he mentioned.
The trouble was prolonged simply earlier than the pandemic hit with paid household go away, giving workers eight weeks to take care of a direct member of the family with a severe well being situation.
Bergh described the go away as each a short-term monetary hit and the correct factor to do.
“About half of our workers fall into this sandwich era the place they’re taking good care of youngsters and aged dad and mom,” he mentioned. “The stress and that accountability tends to fall on girls.”
The CEO argued that it’s not simply the correct factor to do however — by means of an extended lens — the higher monetary transfer.
“The price of changing a proficient worker can typically be as much as two instances the price of what the workers themselves have been and there’s at all times the danger of failure,” he mentioned. “If we have been in a position to retain extremely precious girls…that might pay for itself in enormous dividends.”
That’s a theme that recurs frequently within the company citizenship dialog — corporations can do good not essentially by wandering off into points they aren’t linked to, however by determining how they’ll do what they already do in a method that’s higher for everybody.
Sustainability affords many examples given how hands-on style corporations are within the space and the way a lot room for enchancment there’s in attire manufacturing processes.
Bergh pointed to Levi’s assortment utilizing cottonized hemp — hemp that’s softened to provide it a hand a lot nearer to cotton.
“You may barely inform the distinction,” he mentioned.
However there’s a distinction within the ecological footprint of hemp in contrast with cotton, he mentioned.
“It doesn’t require lots of water,” Bergh mentioned. “It doesn’t require lots of land, you may develop much more per sq. foot. It’s nonetheless dearer than cotton, however from a sustainability standpoint, it’s completely the correct factor to do. We went ahead with it anyway, though it’s at a price premium to cotton.”
And shopping for into hemp will assist scale that a part of the availability chain, making it a extra viable possibility for Levi’s and others over time.
Levi’s move into the secondhand market — working with a 3rd get together to restore and resell items it made — is comparable in that it helps additional a extra sustainable different to the landfill and in addition will get the model in on a scorching, rising market.
“It’s not a money-making proposition at present, it’s nonetheless a comparatively small enterprise,” Bergh mentioned. “It’s a P&L hit, at present, nevertheless it’s the correct factor to do for the long run. That is how Gen Z customers store, they like going to thrift shops, they like going to secondhand outlets. It’s a chance for us to take into that zeitgeist whereas persevering with to drive this model.”
Model is at all times vital at Levi’s and is an asset the corporate willingly makes use of, making a platform that can be utilized to assist amplify its message.
“It’s enormous,” Bergh mentioned about that platform. “It’s not about me. This firm has such a protracted monitor report of not being afraid to take a stand on vital problems with the day, not being afraid to stay its neck out. We don’t simply communicate up, we spend up, too; we help nonprofit organizations which are attempting to make a distinction. The platform is critical and in contrast to nearly another firm on this planet. We punch method above our weight.”
By the use of instance, he pointed to Levi’s 2017 transfer to affix different corporations to denounce then-President Donald Trump’s immigration ban from seven majority Muslim international locations.
“We didn’t waste a second,” he mentioned. “That was basically a human rights challenge. The following day, the headlines have been ‘Apple, Fb, Google and Levi Strauss oppose the immigration ban.’ These are trillion-dollar market cap corporations [compared with Levi’s $10 billion market cap]. We punch properly above our weight. We take a stand on issues the place we predict our voice can contribute to creating a distinction.”
There may be nonetheless extra work to do — Bergh has been clear-eyed, easy and vocal on the necessity to create a extra various workforce at Levi’s.
“After the George Floyd homicide, I engaged plenty of instances with our [employee resource group], our Black affinity group,” he mentioned. “They got here and talked with the chief workforce a pair instances on their ideas on what we have to do. We’re not the place we must be. It’s most likely my greatest failure up so far as CEO. We’ve made range, fairness and inclusion one among our high priorities going ahead. It must be a part of my legacy that we make significant progress on this space.”
That candor is uncommon — and regardless of discuss of legacy and CEO successors, Bergh mentioned he’s nonetheless going to be round to stick with it and carry the torch at Levi’s for a while.
“I’m not going anyplace,” he mentioned. “I’m right here for some time. I don’t wish to go away till I can say to myself, ‘Mission Achieved.’”
For Bergh, having somebody to choose up that torch and proceed the Levi’s legacy of company citizenship is core to that mission.
MORE FROM WWD:
https://wwd.com/business-news/business-features/levi-strauss-chip-berg-wwd-honor-corporate-citizenship-1234983086/ | For Company Citizenship, Levi Strauss & Co. – WWD