By  on May 11, 1994

NEW YORK -- Robert D. Haas, chairman and chief executive officer of Levi Strauss & Co., says he can't watch the commercials for his own Dockers brand. They make him cry.

"The one with the father and daughter dancing is the one that kills me. I guess because I relate," said the lanky chief executive officer during a recent interview here. Haas has a teenage daughter.

But while he might become emotional over a TV commercial, he's got a cool head about the San Francisco-based family business that was founded by his great-great-grand uncle Levi Strauss almost 140 years ago -- especially the $6 billion company's soft spots.

Those weaknesses are prompting what Haas called "a massive reengineering," where customer service and strategic partnerships with retailers are the priority.

Among other things, the reengineering has cut production time from five days to one, changed work patterns in Levi's factories to smaller, more flexible teams and reduced the number of denim suppliers from about a dozen to four or five.

What prompted the giant's internal examination?

"We want to be a corporation for the 21st century," said Haas during a wide-ranging interview at WWD's offices. "I think what happened was that although we had a vision for the future, we were trying to keep up with the explosive growth of our international business and the explosion of our Dockers business in the U.S. It took our eye off the ball. Some of our competitors realized that service might be a point of vulnerability. People like Haggar, who have been very active in EDI from the beginning -- and, more recently, VF -- have really made that a focal point of a lot of their efforts."

Now, Haas said "the real issue is customer service."

"In the old Levi, it was sort of 'my way or the highway.' That's not the world we're living in, and it's not even good business practice. It's very shortsighted, and you can't be successful by alienating your business partners," he said.

The company asked its retailers what they thought customer service should be.

"It was more than on-time and complete deliveries," he said. "It had to do with things like floor-ready merchandise, in-store shops and their replenishment, merchandise tailored to their tier of distribution or their marketing strategies.

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