By Alan Murray and David Meyer
March 26, 2019

Good morning.

Levi Strauss & Co. had a successful IPO last week, and it deserves attention for a couple of reasons.

First, most of the IPOs being talked about this year are for companies barely 10 years old—think Lyft, Uber, Airbnb, Slack. Levi Strauss, on the other hand, has been around since 1873—a product of the California gold rush.

Second, while we write a lot about the growing group of companies eager to put public purpose at the center of their business strategies, Levi Strauss has been doing that from day one—when the owner made a substantial donation to charity out of his first year of profits. The company desegregated factories in the South ten years before Jim Crow laws were knocked down, went to heroic efforts to avoid layoffs during the Great Depression, became one of the first companies to give health benefits to same-sex partners, and pulled all funding from the Boy Scouts when it banned gay individuals. Those were tough decisions for a hard-core blue jeans company—the last one prompted 130,000 angry letters opposing the company’s action. But it put Levi Strauss on the right side of history.

Current CEO Chip Bergh, who joined the company seven years ago, was attracted by that history and has continued the theme. He came to Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference in 2014 to talk about his commitment to sustainable apparel (and earned some notoriety for telling attendees to “stop washing their jeans.”). He created a precedent-shattering wellness program for his company’s employees. And last fall, he announced a campaign against gun violence, calling on other CEOs to join in.

So will that be harder to do now that it’s a public company, with demanding shareholders? Bergh thinks not. “We talked about this on the road show,” he said. “Part of the reason we’ve been around for 166 years is our commitment to running the business for long term.”

It helps that Bergh is delivering results: he’s made double digit revenue growth a standard for the last couple of years. It also helps that his company has a dual class share structure—descendants of the founding family have shares with 10 times the voting rights of ordinary shares, and they are “the ultimate long-term investors,” he says.

Still, Bergh believes this is a path others can follow. There is a growing “hunger for companies that are committed to a moral compass, that are committed to doing the right thing.” We think—and hope—he’s right.

More news below.

Alan Murray


You May Like