During Axios’ BFD event in San Francisco, Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh discussed the values he says have given the company its longevity.
- The Levi Strauss company, inventors of the blue jeans, turns 170 years old this month, making the iconic brand one of the oldest in the U.S.
- While speaking at Axios’ BFD event in San Francisco on Wednesday, Bergh discussed the qualities that he believes have helped the company achieve its long life and lasting influence on the clothing of America.
- Over his career, Bergh says he has learned the companies that last are the ones that put values first.
- “We need to be prepared to make the harder right decision over the easier wrong decision, and be prepared to live with the consequences of that,” Bergh says.
Why it’s news
Many companies with good products have faded over the years, but the key to creating a business with longevity is building it on something that lasts longer than just good business—strong values.
During his career, Bergh says he has worked at only three places, the U.S. military, Procter & Gamble, and Levi Strauss. Over that career, Bergh says he has seen a common thread.
“The key thread through all three of those, I call them institutions, is their values,” Berg says. “And that’s always been really, really important to me. The values I learned in the military carry forward with me the rest of my career.”
When Bergh decided to come to Levi Strauss in 2011, he says one of the attractive qualities of the company was its values, including its treatment of employees and stance on social issues of the day.
“This is a company that’s not afraid to take stands on important social issues of the day. We put our employees first—always have and always will,” Berg says. “We’re all about doing the harder right over the easier wrong.”
Following that principle has not always been easy, Berg admits. The company was leaving one of its most profitable markets when Levi Strauss decided to pull its business from Russia following the Russian war with Ukraine.
“It was a very big profitable business for us,” he says. “I think a lot of companies that had a business in Russia struggled with this. It’s not so much we made the decision to exit, it was how we exited.”
Before leaving, Bergh says Levi Strauss fulfilled all lease obligations and provided the nearly 800 employees left behind with severance packages.
“It was hard. It was very, very emotional. But it was absolutely the right thing to do. We could not continue to do business in that country,” he says.
Regardless of how hard sticking to those values may be, Bergh says it is one of the most important things for startups to keep in mind. Often, he says, new companies forget to incorporate values into the foundation of their startup because they are too focused on other aspects of the business. However, he says forgoing value is a mistake.
“I think it is really, really important because I do think it’s the key to longevity,” Bergh says.