NEW YORK — Peter E. Haas Sr., a descendant of Levi Strauss and the former president and chief executive officer of Levi Strauss & Co., died Sunday of natural causes in his hometown of San Francisco. Haas was 86.
"Throughout his career and in his personal life, my uncle Peter distinguished himself with his strong values and generosity," Robert D. Haas, Levi's chairman, said in a statement. "His business accomplishments are a testament to his belief that you can both operate a successful company and have a positive impact on the community."
Haas, born on Dec. 20, 1918, was the great-grandnephew of Strauss. Despite his family's heritage and his father and grandfather each serving as presidents of the company, Haas initially sought to pave his own career path. The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, which he viewed from his bedroom window, inspired him to pursue a degree in engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. After two years he switched majors to economics, graduating in 1940 and taking a job at a San Francisco advertising agency.
Poor eyesight kept Haas from enlisting in the military during World War II. Instead, he attended Harvard Business School, where he graduated cum laude in 1943. Following Harvard, he took a job with defense contractor Hammond Aircraft, starting as a riveter, which gave Haas his first experiences with the relationships between factory workers and management.
It wasn't until 1945 that Haas joined his father, Walter A. Haas Sr.; uncle Daniel E. Koshland, and brother Walter A. Haas Jr. at Levi Strauss. In 1948, he was elected to the company's board and in 1970 became its seventh president, taking over for his brother, Walter Haas Jr., who had held the position since 1958.
A year after becoming president, the company went public, posting sales of $405 million and employing 20,000 people. Sales peaked at $7.1 billion in 1996. The company posted revenues of $4.07 billion in 2004.
Haas added the title of ceo in 1976, again picking up where his older brother had left off, and held both positions until 1981. From 1981 to 1989 Haas served as chairman. At the time of his death, he was chairman of the executive committee and a director.Over the course of his 60 years with the company, Haas focused his work on the firm's financial and manufacturing operations, while Walter took the helm on merchandising, marketing and corporate planning.
The Haas brothers played a key role in pushing for racial integration at Southern factories, telling local officials the company would only open factories in their areas if equal status was granted to all workers.
Haas was also an active philanthropist on both a local and national level. He worked extensively with the United Way of the Bay Area and was a member of the board of governors of the United Way of America. He served as a member on the Council on Foreign Relations and was a member of the advisory boards of the Smithsonian Institution and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Haas is survived by his wife, Mimi; two sons, Peter and Michael; a daughter, Margaret; two stepsons, Ari and Daniel Lurie; four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. today at Temple Emanu-El, 2 Lake Street, in San Francisco.
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