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James Curleigh to Take Helm of Levi’s Brand

Executive joins the company from outdoor specialist Keen Footwear, where he reportedly lifted the privately held company’s volume to over $200 million.

Filling a large void with an oversize personality, Levi Strauss & Co. on Tuesday appointed James Curleigh president of the flagship Levi’s brand and executive vice president of the company.

Curleigh, who’s been president and chief executive officer of outdoor specialist Keen Footwear for more than four years, succeeds Robert Hanson, who left Levi’s in November and joined American Eagle Outfitters Inc. as ceo in January. Upon taking the post at Levi’s on July 5, Curleigh will report to Chip Bergh, president and ceo of the San Francisco-based jeans and sportswear giant.

Curleigh’s long hair, scruffy beard and often unstudied dress provide a dramatic contrast to his predecessor, the more buttoned-up Hanson, and would seem to make him a throwback to Levi’s latter-day roots in the Sixties counterculture. Yet, he comes to Levi’s with a reputation as a highly disciplined business executive who reportedly lifted privately held Keen’s volume to over $200 million.

Last year, he took the stage of WWD’s CEO Summit to the strains of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and expressed admiration for his future employer once he began speaking. “Did anyone say, ‘I’d like a pair of pants that was invented during the mining era of 1873 in blue denim that will last a long time and makes me look cooler’? I don’t think so,” he said in a discussion of transformative brands.

Curleigh, now 46, joined Keen after seven years at Salomon Sports North America, where he served as president and ceo, and a two-year tenure at TaylorMade Adidas Golf. Earlier in his career, he was managing director for Salomon in the U.K. and worked in the London offices of M&M Mars.

His tenure at Keen not only brought about an expansion of its sales and global footprint but also a diversification of its product line, both through brand extensions and innovative footwear products, such as the Newport, which combines a sandal form with toe protection.

Bergh described the new hire as “an inspirational brand leader with a proven track record of bringing innovative products to market while delivering strong results. His unwavering commitment to creative design and craftsmanship and his embodiment of our values make him a great fit for the Levi’s brand.”

Last year, the Levi’s brand was responsible for $3.95 billion of the company’s $4.76 billion in revenues, or about 83 percent of the total. The percentage is up from 79 percent in 2009 and 81 percent in 2010 as the Dockers brand’s share of volume has dropped to 12 percent from 16 percent.

While his appointment fills the biggest vacancy at Levi’s, it leaves a question mark hanging over perhaps the most challenging job at the company — turning around the troubled Dockers brand. Anne Rohosy in February was appointed president for commercial operations in the Americas and Europe but retained the presidency of the Dockers brand pending the appointment of her successor. Dockers’ sales, once over $1.2 billion, were just over $570 million last year.

In other appointments disclosed Tuesday, Joelle Maher, senior vice president of Americas Retail for Levi’s since 2009, was promoted to the new post of executive vice president of the company and president of global retail, effective immediately, and Varun Bhatia was named chief human resources officer, effective July 23. Both report to Bergh.

Maher will be responsible for all retail operations worldwide, including e-commerce and company-owned, franchise and outlet stores. Her promotion brings Levi’s direct-to-consumer business under the roster of its ceo’s direct-reports for the first time. A veteran of Old Navy, Lucky Brand Jeans, Macy’s and Lord & Taylor, she joined Levi’s in 2007 as vice president and general manager of U.S. retail and led the company’s acquisition of the Most outlet stores, previously a part of the now defunct Anchor Blue/Hub Distributing organization. Levi’s owned stores and online sales last year contributed about $857 million to its revenues, or about 18 percent of the company total. That figure is up from 11 percent in 2009 and 15 percent in 2010.

Like Bergh, Bhatia is an alumnus of Procter & Gamble Co., where he managed human resources for the global Gillette business unit. Most recently, he was vice president of human resources for Asia-Pacific at Kraft Foods Inc. At Levi’s, he succeeds Cathy Unruh, who’s left the firm.