NEW YORK — Bobbi Silten, president of Levi Strauss & Co.’s U.S. Dockers division, will be stepping down from her post in June to take a six-month sabbatical, the San Francisco-based company said in a statement this week.
Silten’s departure comes after a year when Levi’s management considered selling off the Dockers business, but ultimately pulled it off the market. The firm said Monday it is kicking off a search for an external candidate to replace the 44-year-old Silten.
Phil Marineau, Levi’s president and chief executive officer, said at the end of Silten’s break Levi’s will “consider her next career opportunity at the company.”
Dockers’ financial performance has mirrored that of Levi’s as a whole in recent years, with sales eroding. In fiscal 2004, which ended Nov. 28, Dockers’ U.S. sales came to $649.4 million, down 20.9 percent from $820.5 million in 2003. Worldwide sales of the brand were off 19 percent to $764.2 million.
During the company’s February conference call discussing the results, Silten said part of the decline was the result of an effort by the brand to focus on higher-margin products and more profitable sales, a corporate-wide strategy that allowed Levi Strauss to return to profitability in 2004, despite racking up its eighth consecutive year of sales declines.
As a whole, Levi’s last year recorded net income of $30.4 million on sales of $4.07 billion.
Silten also acknowledged during the February call that the “distraction of the Dockers sale process” had taken a toll on performance.
In May 2004, Levi’s officials disclosed that they were planning to sell Dockers, with the goal of raising enough money to pay down a substantial chunk of the firm’s $2 billion debt load. After shopping the brand for several months, in October the company revealed it was calling off the sale process because no bids had been high enough.
Levi’s bondholders had approved the idea of selling Dockers, so long as the deal brought in at least $600 million. But Levi’s officials had been holding out for more — they never said exactly how much, but financial sources said the firm had been hoping for a price tag between $800 million and $900 million.
In this week’s statement, Silten said, “The U.S. Dockers brand is off to a good start in 2005, with preliminary indications of a solid first quarter.”
Silten joined Dockers as director of marketing in 1995. She was promoted to president of the brand in late 1999.