Levi Strauss’ Chip Bergh, Darren Walker to discuss need for courage in corporate America

The traditional marks of a good business are often measured by profits, stakeholder equity and utility. As corporate America shifts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, one value is being left behind: care for the consumers. 

Chip Bergh, president and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., is among one of the leading business figureheads in America who tries to look beyond profit to better help people across the globe. Ford Foundation President Darren Walker will join Bergh in conversation at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 18 in the Amphitheater to discuss what it means to be courageous in big business, and how Bergh has stood for his values in his career. 

In 2019, Bergh was named one of the World’s Greatest Leaders by Fortune magazine. Prior to taking up the role as president of Levi Strauss & Co., Bergh served on the board of directors for the apparel company VF Corporation and the Singapore Economic Development Board. He also worked at Procter & Gamble for 28 years, overseeing the launch of Swifter, Gillette and more multimillion dollar products under P&G’s name. Additionally, Bergh was named nonexecutive chairman of the board of HP Inc. in 2017. 

Walker has participated in conversations with several speakers throughout the Week Eight theme “New Profiles in Courage.” With Bergh, he anticipates a fresh perspective on courage in corporate America. 

“Chip is an example of a corporate CEO who has exhibited courage, because he has been willing to go against the grain of sometimes normative thought,” Walker said. “Chip has challenged the idea that the only purpose of a company is profits.”

Bergh has campaigned for investment to be returned to employees and their communities, an act that Walker said “takes courage in a time when most of the incentives for public company CEOs are strictly financial, and most of the indicators of success are mostly financial.”

Levi Strauss sells clothing in more than 110 countries worldwide, and has approximately 500 stores. Under Bergh’s leadership, Levi Strauss returned to public markets with a successful initial public offering in March 2019. Walker himself has served on corporate boards for Block, Inc. and Ralph Lauren.

“I plan on situatuating Chip in the context of corporate America in 2022 and the difficulty for a leader to exhibit courage when they are often discouraged from being courageous,” he said. 

As Week Eight nears an end, Walker hopes people learn from Bergh’s strategy and leadership, and act with the same bravery. 

“Chautauquans should expect to understand a leader and a company that believes in a double bottom line, a financial return and social return,” Walker said. “That it is possible for more companies to be like Levi Strauss, and that they can play a role — Chautauqua as shareholders of companies can demand that their companies seek a double bottom line, too.”  

Staff writer Kaitlyn Finchler contributed to this report. 

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The author Skyler Black

Skyler Black is a rising senior at Miami University studying journalism and emerging technology and business design. At Miami, she reports for UP Magazine and The Miami Student newspaper while also serving as an undergraduate assistant to several journalism classes. This summer, Skyler will report on the environment and Bird, Tree & Garden Club. When not writing, Skyler enjoys listening to music and skiing in her home state of Michigan during winter.