A three-time Rivet 50 honoree who was named one of Fortune Magazine’s “World’s Greatest Leaders” in 2019, Chip Bergh is a denim industry stalwart. Despite a 28-year prior life at Proctor & Gamble, Bergh is an undeniable denim insider who has prized relationship-building and collaboration throughout his tenure as CEO and president of Levi Strauss & Co. He celebrates his eleventh year at the helm of the heritage American denim brand this year.
It’s been one of the toughest periods of his career in leadership, Bergh said this spring, citing the effects of the global pandemic, social reckoning, ongoing supply chain hurdles, rising inflation and global conflicts that stand to have massive macroeconomic impacts for seasons to come. But there have been victories, too. The executive has helped Levi’s navigate the turbulence and grow its revenue by double digits from pre-Covid numbers. The brand published its first sustainability report in 2021, released a 100-percent recyclable version of its iconic 501 jean, encouraged shoppers to “Buy Better, Wear Longer” to keep jeans out of landfills, and advanced its Levi’s SecondHand resale business—all to contribute to the circular economy.
While steering the world’s leading jeans brand through a year of recovery, Bergh demonstrated a willingness to wade into debates on critical social issues that most other corporate executives avoid. In addition to developing a strategy to ensure the company’s fiscal health, Bergh also advocated for national paid family leave programs, gun violence prevention legislation, and reproductive rights.
Bergh declines to shy away from these issues and has spearheaded the company’s efforts to donate more than $1.5 million to non-profits like the Community Justice Action Fund and Giffords Courage to Fight Gun Violence. Levi’s has called protecting women’s rights to safe abortions “a business imperative,” and provides grants to the Center for Reproductive Rights through the Levi Strauss Foundation. The hallmark of Bergh’s time at Levi’s has been a philosophy of generating “profits through principles,” his colleagues said, and he is committed to using the company’s brands and platform to drive positive social change.
At the American Apparel and Footwear Association’s 2022 American Image Awards ceremony in April, honoree Bergh said that Levi’s is now the “strongest it has ever been,” thanks to its 16,000 global employees who have persevered through recent challenges. “Seeing the team step up pushes me to be a better, more empathetic leader every single day,” he said. “I can honestly say that I’m a different leader today than I was two years ago.”