Byline: Scott Malone

NEW YORK — Less than a year after joining Levi Strauss & Co., James Lewis has stepped down as president of the San Francisco-based company’s Americas operation, the company said Friday.
Levi’s said in a statement that Lewis planned “to pursue other business interests in New York.” In the statement, Lewis said he had “decided to return to what is home for me and base camp for the apparel industry.”
Philip Marineau, Levi’s president and chief executive officer, said in the statement, “Jim and I mutually agreed that his departure was the right course of action for him.” Lewis could not be reached for comment.
In April, Lewis joined the jeans maker after spending five years at Liz Claiborne Inc., where he rose to group president. Levi’s said it had launched a search for his successor and that Marineau will fulfill his duties in the meantime.
Marineau joined the company in 1999, after working at Pepsi Cola. Shortly after arriving at Levi’s, he shook up the company’s top management ranks, ousting several long-time Levi’s executives.
At that time he initiated a search for a head of the company’s Americas unit. The search was said to have focused on apparel executives, due to Marineau’s lack of previous experience in the garment industry.
When Lewis joined the company, he said his focus was going to be on rebuilding Levi’s relationships with retailers, which had suffered in recent years due to problems the company had in the late Nineties making deliveries on time and in the quantities that had been ordered.
He also was said to bring a strong product focus to the brand, which had made a few stumbles on product.
In an interview shortly before he started the job, Lewis said, “The challenge is really nothing that I’m not familiar with and that’s the comfort of going to Levi’s.”
For the past two years, Levi’s has been trying to turn itself around, though Marineau has acknowledged that making a substantial improvement in the business will take some time — he frequently likens turning the $4.65 billion company around to steering a battleship.
Last month, the company reported that its margins had substantially improved in 2000 and that income for the year came to $223.4 million — compared with profits of $5.4 million a year earlier.
However, the company’s sales continued to decline, though at a slower rate. The 9.6 percent drop in 2000 sales followed two years of double-digit declines. For 2001, Marineau has set a target of flat sales, which he defines as plus or minus two percent.

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