May 2, 2019
Distinguished Speaker: Charles “Chip” Bergh ’79
Bergh began his career in brand management shortly after graduating by taking a position with Procter & Gamble. His 28-year career with the company included…
In my career, I have had the benefit of developing and launching new brands. I started at Procter and Gamble as a general manager over a few brands that weren’t very glamorous, like Mr. Clean, Spic and Span, and Comet. At the time, the cleanser Comet had 50 percent of the market share. I watched that erode over a few years to 20 percent as Clorox introduced Soft Scrub. Household surfaces were changing, and we had lost touch with our consumers. They didn’t want or need a harsh cleanser anymore, and lives had changed as dual income households had couples with less time to clean.
We went on a consumer-learning journey. That’s when the Swiffer was born. We used the same technology from our Pampers diapers to develop what would become the Swiffer Wet Jet. The Swiffer dry technology was something we found globally and modified and refined. Now the Swiffer Dry is a $700 million line of business. If companies don’t innovate, they die or become commoditized. We always need to be looking at the next scene and for the next need.
Consider Levi’s. It started 164 years ago at a dry goods store in San Francisco. The gold rush was in full swing, and the prospectors’ pants kept ripping. Each week, they’d return to Levi’s store for more pants. So Levi teams up with Jacob Davis, a tailor, to place rivets in the weak spots on blue denim. They patent the rivets, creating the first blue jean. So Levi’s are born out of innovation.
He remembers as a teenager pleading with his mom to drive him to a store in a nearby town so he could get a pair of Levis and be cool.
“The people who weren’t naked at Woodstock were wearing Levis,” he says.
As a first-year student at Lafayette in 1975, he had his trunk packed with two pairs of Levi’s jeans and two pairs of Levi’s corduroys.
Bergh began his career in brand management shortly after graduating by taking a position with Procter & Gamble. His 28-year career with the company included the turnaround of Old Spice, Folgers, and Jif Peanut Butter, and the creation and launch of the Swiffer. Following his retirement from P&G, in 2011 he took the helm of Levi Strauss, one of the world’s leading apparel companies with $5 billion in sales annually. He also is chairman of the board for Hewlett Packard Enterprises.
In his first trip back to campus since 1989, Bergh sat down with students, administrators, and faculty to talk about his career. The event, hosted by Yusuf Dahl, director of the IDEAL Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, was sponsored by the Office of Career Services and the IDEAL Center.
When I took over as president and CEO, I did my homework, looking at the annual report and digging into the facts, financial numbers, and data. I also asked consumers about Levi’s. While they had fond memories of us, they hadn’t bought a pair of our jeans in years. We had lost relevance.
One of the first investments I made was an innovation center. Our headquarters are in San Francisco, the global capital of innovation. If we are going to attract the top talent in both product development and marketing, we needed an innovation center.
Google, a neighbor in our city, also prizes innovation. They work on interesting stuff that may have no use. They had developed a conductive fiber that could be woven into a garment. Seeing we had an innovation center, they called us. Over the last 18 months, the two teams worked to create a connective trucker jacket that links to your phone, and with a tap or swipe of the sleeve, you can answer calls, control music, and anything else you may want. It’s on the market now. We sent the first one off the line to the Smithsonian Institute.