Editor’s Note: The following message is an email to Levi Strauss & Co. employees from Chip Bergh, who is retiring from LS&Co. The company’s board of directors has elected Michelle Gass, currently the company’s president, to succeed Chip as president and chief executive officer effective January 29, completing the transition plan announced on November 8, 2022.
This Friday is my last day as the CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. Though I’ll stay on as an employee through the end of April as the executive vice chair of the board of directors, for all practical purposes, my time together with all of you is quickly coming to an end.
It has been an incredible honor to work with all of you and lead this great company over the last 12-plus years. We have accomplished so much together, and I’m confident that Michelle Gass will take the company to the next level. The best is yet to come!
Everyone’s got a Levi’s® story, and I have lots, too: I wore our jeans as a kid and while serving as an officer stationed overseas in the Army. Later, I spent 28 incredible years at Procter & Gamble where I worked on brands both big and small, local and global, successful and struggling. I took the CEO job here because I saw LS&Co. as one of America’s oldest and greatest companies, famous for making a difference in the world. And in Levi’s®, I saw one of the world’s most iconic brands. But I also saw that the company whose jeans I grew up in had lost its way, and the challenge of turning it around felt like one I’d spent my entire life preparing for. Truthfully, I came in search of a legacy, too. I wanted to do something that really mattered, to leave my mark on one last business. Something with a noble cause. What I found was a team whose people and values have left an indelible mark on me.
Through your work, we put the Levi’s® brand back at the center of culture and transitioned from being a men’s denim-bottoms U.S. wholesale business to a truly global, DTC-first, head-to-toe lifestyle outfitter that makes clothes for everyone. Today, Levi’s® is the No. 1 denim brand in the world, bigger than the next three largest denim brands combined. We diversified our portfolio even inside of the Levi’s® brand, with significant growth of our women’s business and tops. We’ve expanded our portfolio with the addition of Beyond Yoga® and reimagined Dockers® for the future.
From a financial standpoint, we created significant shareholder value over the last 12 years, with a 5x increase in market cap. We transformed our balance sheet, improved our structural economics and took the company public in 2019.
But the results are never as important as how you achieve those results, or what you do with them. Our business and values are interconnected; they work with and for one another. By returning Levi’s® to the center of culture, LS&Co. built a bigger platform to stand upon when speaking and leading on society’s most urgent and important issues, like voting, LGBTQIA+ equality, immigration and reproductive rights. Business success — top- and bottom-line growth — creates the flywheel to give back even more to the Levi Strauss Foundation and fund its vital work around the world.
Today, this company and our voice matter. We punch way above our weight! It’s why we were included on Fortune’s Change the World list four times — for our Worker Well-being program, Levi’s® “Buy Better, Wear Longer” campaign, our gun-violence prevention work and paid family leave initiative. It’s why we made Fast Company’s World-Changing Ideas list for making jeans with recycled denim. Though we’ve grown, we’ve never compromised our values. We always strive to choose the harder right over the easier wrong.
When I think back on my time here, I’m most proud of the open, inclusive culture we’ve built. You speak up. You hold me accountable. Your collective character and moral clarity have pushed me to be the leader you deserve and this company to be the best it can be. You’ve challenged me to make LS&Co. more diverse, equitable and worthy of all who work here. One of my fondest memories is when one of you raised a hand at Chip(s) and Beer and asked what we were doing to address the Syrian refugee crisis. We mobilized around the world and committed to support, train and employ refugees through the Levi Strauss Foundation and International Rescue Committee. The spark, though, came from you.
This is what true leadership is. It’s not just top-down, it’s also reaching a hand across. Real leadership doesn’t just happen on deadline or in meetings but in the “between times” when people expect it least and need it most. It’s about inspiring someone and changing them for the better, leaving a coworker, a company and a community better than you found them. During the global pandemic, you looked out for your colleagues and families by changing your work processes to support and accommodate coworkers you may have never even met. When your personal lives became more complicated and fraught, you extended more empathy to your teammates. As the economy grew more uncertain, you donated more to the Red Tab Foundation than ever, which in turn disbursed more aid to LS&Co. employees and retirees than ever. The reason I’m ready to step aside and am so confident about the future of LS&Co. is because I’m leaving behind a company of truly incredible leaders.
I’ve been saying “thank you” to a lot of people in recent days, and I’ll be saying it to many more in the days to come. But in this moment, I want to call out a few specific people. First, I want to thank my wife, Juliet, my best friend and soulmate. I have learned so much from her, I’ve grown so much because of her, and the best thing about retirement is the time I’ll be able to spend with her. I want to thank my executive assistant and chief of staff, Nicole Reyes. We started on the same day. We laughed, cried and rode the rollercoaster of ups and downs here, and we did it all together. I want to thank my executive leadership team. Most of the team I hired in my early days on the job is the team that exists today. You believed in me first and believed in me most — even in the times I didn’t think I’d make it myself. I want to thank and formally welcome our next CEO, Michelle. I believe in her vision for the company, and after spending the past year with her, I couldn’t be more certain or excited that she’s the leader to take us to the next level. And last, I want to thank you all, my teammates at LS&Co. You’re loud, brilliant and brave, and it’s been the honor of my life to spend the last 12-plus years as your CEO.
Maya Angelou has a quote that I’ve been paraphrasing for years. She said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s stuck with me, and I’ve often used it in business. I like to say, “No one will ever remember me for the numbers. They’ll remember me for what I did for them. They’ll remember me for how I made them feel.” Though I’m stepping down, my heart will always be here, with you. I love you all. I’ll never forget all that I’ve learned and all that we did together. I’ll never forget how you and this company made me feel.