John Anderson (BCom 1969) began his career with Levi Strauss & Co as a product manager in Australia. He moved to Europe with the brand in 1988 as a merchandiser and served in many senior leadership roles with the company internationally before being appointed as CEO of Levi Strauss & Co, based in San Francisco. In June 2011, after a stellar 32 years with the company, John announced his retirement.
You graduated with a BCom in Economics in 1969. Why did you choose Economics? Did you have a career plan after graduation?
I didn't have a specific plan at the time but I pursued economics because I was interested in business generally - and thought it would give me a strong foundation for whatever course I charted in the future.
You moved overseas with Levis in 1995. What was your goal at the time? Were you apprehensive about anything?
My goal was to live and learn about another part of the world. I was very excited about the opportunity and believed that it would help me grow as a leader while learning about other cultures and ways of approaching the world. I encourage everyone to pursue the opportunity to live and work in another country, as I think it gives you a remarkably different perspective on business and the global economy.
Levis has taken you to Europe, Canada, Latin America and North America. How have you had to adapt your work and leadership style in these different countries?
The most important thing I learned through living abroad was to focus on integrating personally and professionally into the local culture - treating this as new way of living instead of a short-term assignment. My global leadership roles taught me the ability to remain flexible at all times, tolerate ambiguity and improve my listening skills.
What's kept you at Levis for over thirty years?
The ongoing challenges and opportunities to grow in a dynamic retail industry - as well as the youthful energy and passion in the fashion culture. And, of course, the wonderful colleagues and friendships I developed around the world.
You launched Levis into China. What was this experience like?
It was difficult because we were the first global apparel company to operate in China. We started with a cautious approach, optimised local talent and made a decision to fully own operations (versus working through a local affiliate) in order to maintain our core company values.
You're currently on the board of Harley-Davidson. What are the synergies between Harley-Davidson and Levis?
Both are iconic American brands with global operations. Both have a rich history of success and innovation - and both are constantly challenged with new competitors in the marketplace.