Byline: Scott Malone

NEW YORK — Shoring up its executive team, Levi Strauss & Co. said Monday that it has named Jim Lewis as president of its Americas division, effective April 24.
Lewis currently serves as group president of Liz Claiborne Inc., where he oversees all the Liz Claiborne brand women’s and men’s apparel. At Levi’s, he will oversee the company’s $3.4 billion business in North, South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean.
He succeeds John Ermatinger, who left the company in November along with a few other executives of the San Francisco-based company during a management shakeup initiated by Phil Marineau, who joined Levi’s as president and chief executive officer in September.
Marineau said in a statement that Lewis “has an exceptional track record of accomplishment in brand building, product innovation, operations and customer relations, all areas of critical importance to our business turnaround.”
Lewis added that, “My time at Liz Claiborne was very rewarding. Navigating through the recovery and the various transformation initiatives with Paul Charron and Denise Seegal groomed me well for this next step.”
In a brief phone interview Monday, Lewis confirmed the move and said he was in the process of announcing it to Liz Claiborne employees.
Lewis joined Liz Claiborne five years ago as division president for LizWear, and later served for a time as group president over the women’s casual apparel business before being given responsibility for the men’s business, as well. When it released 1999 results, Liz Claiborne reported that its signature brand made up a little over half of its $2.8 billion in revenue.
Prior to joining Liz, Lewis spent nearly 10 years at Haggar Clothing Co. He began his apparel career at Burdine’s department store and also spent some time running his own shirt manufacturing company.
Industry observers said that Lewis’s experiences strengthening Liz Claiborne’s sales over the past several years will serve him well at Levi’s.
“Jim has had the experience of coming into an environment like Liz, which at the time was a very strong brand that was in the process of rebuilding itself,” said John Heldrich, president of Atlanta-based Swift Denim, who said he has known Lewis for 20 years. “He’s orchestrated a great deal of change in a major consumer brand that had fallen on more difficult times, and so, obviously, he brings that experience base to Levi’s.”
Dutch Leonard, president of Burlington Casual Wear, of Greensboro, N.C., said, “What Jim brought to Liz was an ability to take a variety of different areas, from sportswear to jeans, and more or less get the right people under him to execute and put together the package that Liz was looking for. He was a good assembler and executor, and Levi’s is probably looking for expertise like that for their next period of growth.”
Back in November, Marineau weeded out several veteran Levi’s executives, including Ermatinger, after deciding they did not have the experience or background to carry out the company’s turnaround. This included eliminating the position of chief marketing officer, which had been held by 25-year veteran Gordon Shank. Robert Holloway also left as vice president of youth brands and was succeeded by James Capon.
Marineau has taken over marketing duties and has also been carrying out the duties of president of the Americas for the past few months, according to a Levi’s spokesman.
In an interview last month, Marineau said Levi’s is focused on improving the performance of its basic operations, such as shipping and inventory control. He also said that on the marketing front, Levi’s would be shifting its emphasis to promoting its product rather than trying to convince consumers how cool a brand it is.
In 1999, Levi’s sales slipped 13.8 percent, to $5.14 billion. That marked the company’s third consecutive year of revenue decline. Marineau also warned that sales in 2000 are likely to be down as well, though he forecast a return to growth in 2001.
Marineau also said the firm plans to increase its emphasis on tops and to explore licensing opportunities down the road.

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