How Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh is leading the jeans maker through the coronavirus pandemic

Jeans maker Levi’s has seen hard times before, it’s one of the benefits of being in business for 167 years. That means it has endured the terrible economic conditions in the U.S. during the Great Depression, Great Recession and today the coronavirus pandemic.

With all of those awful experiences comes institutional knowledge, a playbook if you will, on how to survive and exit the other end somewhat intact (if not stronger, believe it or not). Running point on that playbook right now for Levi’s is its long-time CEO Chip Bergh.

Bergh — who is chairman of printer-maker HP and credited with creating the Swifter mop during a 28-year career at P&G — has spent nine-years as Levi’s CEO. In retail C-suite land that’s a long time, but ultimately a testament to his consistent leadership.

Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh poses for photos outside the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, March 21, 2019. Levi Strauss & Co., which gave America its first pair of blue jeans, is going public for the second time. The 166-year-old company, which owns the Dockers and Denizen brands, previously went public in 1971, but the namesake founder’s descendants took it private again in 1985.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Bergh has reinvigorated Levi’s product lines, pushed to reduce reliance on struggling U.S. department stores by opening Levi’s retail stores, has kept costs under control and led a successful IPO in 2019. As a result, Bergh has a strong group of fans among Wall Street analysts and Levi’s employees.

So, we asked Bergh how he is leading his people during one of the most critical moments in American history. It’s part of Yahoo Finance’s ongoing efforts to shed light on how CEOs and other influencers are rallying the troops amidst these trying times while also contributing to coronavirus relief efforts. CEOs such as Yahoo Finance parent company Verizon’s Hans Vestberg and Waste Management’s Jim Fish truly stick out for their impressive slate of initiatives for employees and consumers. Other CEOs should consider giving them both a call or dropping a tweet.

Here is what Bergh told Yahoo Finance on what he has been up to on the leadership front, which is equally impressive.

“We just fortuitously transitioned to Microsoft Teams about two months ago. I do town halls, we call them Chips & Beer once a month. It is an open mic. People show up, ask questions and I answer. I have now done one of those virtually. We had 1,500 people around the world using Microsoft Teams. I sent out a couple of notes. I am meeting with my leadership team every single day at 8:00 a.m. We have a team meeting where we run through the status of all the different work streams that we are trying to work through.

I have sent out a couple of all employee emails. We are doing a leaders call right after the earnings call with all of the top 250 or so leaders around the world. I am committed to doing these virtual Chips & Beer events every two weeks and we are going to start doing them in each of the different regions in their respective time-zones.

The last thing I will add is we announced a $3 million philanthropic fund that we are going to mobilize. We are just leading with our values through this. Levi’s has such a deep track record of being values led. You know, it’s a tough time. We just announced we are furloughing all of our salaried employees in our U.S. retail stores. But we are trying to do it with empathy. We are leading with our values. We also have an employee fund called Red Patch Foundation where employees donate to partners. We use it to give money to retirees or who have an immediate financial need.

We will continue to lead with our values, realizing this is a significant crisis and we will have to take pretty dramatic cost actions and steps to come out of this stronger on the other end.”

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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