CEO Survey Features Business Insights from Chip Bergh

Levi Strauss & Co.
January 23, 2015

Extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions. And perhaps no other undertaking gives a window into how visionaries are approaching the business challenges of our era than PricewaterhouseCooper’s annual CEO Survey. With findings launched this Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the analysis surveyed 1,322 business leaders across 77 countries in an effort to gain greater understanding of how businesses are determining a course for growth.

Levi’s own Chip Bergh was one of 28 US CEOs selected to be interviewed in detail for the study, segments of which were aired throughout the week in Davos. Bergh fielded topics ranging from the state of the international economy to future technologies to which qualities make a great leader.

Below you can read a selection of Unzipped’s favorite excerpts from Bergh’s interview plus PwC’s video interview, which contains a wealth of groundbreaking ideas about the future of business from LS&Co.’s in-house visionary.

PwC: Who do you think your competitors will be in the future?

Chip Bergh: In the apparel space, there are new competitors popping up and creating an online presence with no retail presence. Crowdsourcing is another big trend, where a manufacturer or a brand won’t even cut cloth until they’ve sold 200 items; they’ll crowdsource ideas. Then they’ll make the product and you’ll get it four weeks later. The Internet changes everything, and it’s opening up the opportunity for disruption. What we’re trying to do is think, “How do we take on some of these new ideas and try to disrupt ourselves?”

For example, in a couple of stores, we’ve got a tailor shop where you can get bespoke Levi’s custom-tailored for you. You’ve got to give consumers a reason to walk into your store, because if you don’t, they’re going to buy online.

As you look at other industries, what is interesting in terms of disruptions, and what do you learn from those?

Think about how smartphone technology in general has changed our lives. Not too far in the future, you’re going to be able to take a panoramic picture of yourself as you spin your body around, and we’re going to be able to custom-tailor a pair of jeans for you, one unit at a time. That’s amazing, and it will completely change everything when that capability comes along.

How do you think about talent diversity and inclusion in terms of culture and competition?

I believe a diverse workforce will outperform a homogenous workforce any day. As we’ve rebuilt the organization since I got here, I’m building a diverse top team, as well as a diverse organization. We operate in a global world, and our business is global. We need a workforce that represents the consumers who buy our product.

What is the key attribute you think leaders need to be successful?

I can’t make this company great without great leaders underneath me. Do they value talent? Can they mentor people? Can they select great talent to work for them? Are they not afraid to make the tough call? Are they able to fly at 40,000 feet, but then when they need to, get into the mud? Can they move around the world and be sensitive to the different cultural dynamics, and sensitive to different consumer needs?

It’s the ability to manage complexity yet make things simple, the ability to sort through the chaff and focus and prioritize—so that their organization can prioritize. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about.