Tod Gimbel recently departed Kraft Foods Asia-Pacific to become senior director for corporate affairs at Levi Strauss & Co. Speaking to PRWeek Global from Singapore, Gimbel explains why he made the move.
Why leave Kraft for Levi's?
I had done three years here in Asia with Kraft and they were looking to send me back to the US. Basically, I quite enjoyed working here in Asia so my wife and I decided to stick around a few more years. The thing that binds both Levi's and Kraft together is that they are both American, so that is comfortable for me. The difference is that Levi's is smaller and privately held. While they are both really good, one of the nice things about a private company is that Levi's has this culture and history of really being engaged beyond its products. It was doing social responsibility way before it was cool.
When you joined Levi's, social responsibility was mentioned as a specific focus. Are you concerned about promoting this area too much?
We are never going to go out and pound our chests and say 'aren't we great?'. But it's also something where there's no shame in talking about it and educating. Levi's has generally done it without fanfare and without looking for a big pat on the back. Now, it realises that it's not a bad thing to talk about the good things you do. Talking about what you do on sustainability is a way to generate conversation out in the community and get other companies thinking about it. It also resonates with consumers - the image of a responsible company helps people feel good about the product they are buying.
What is the biggest PR challenge Levi's faces this year?
The world of fashion and apparel is a rapidly changing world. There are a lot of players out there who weren't around a few years ago, let alone 150 years ago. You have to be agile and nimble to survive and thrive, because the other guys are looking for ways to do it faster and cheaper. Our point of difference is that I don't think anyone has ever done it better.
Is the business suit a thing of the past now for you?
The suits are mothballed for a while. I'm jumping into the world of wearing jeans to work, which is great. I've rediscovered the classic 501s. Whereas I had a couple of pairs of jeans six months ago, I now have more and more.
What is one media channel you cannot live without?
I think living in Asia has weaned me off the 24-hour news cycle. I probably get the bulk of the information from a number of sources on the internet. Even though I'm an older guy, Facebook is a nice thing for me to stay in touch with my friends and family around the world. Between Skype and Facebook, I feel they are basically living right next door to me. It is a very small world.