In both his private and professional life, Robert Haas, the great-great-grandnephew of Levi Strauss, has embodied the strong ethical codes and commitment to responsible commercial success that have guided his family’s business for nearly 150 years. His impressive record of individual achievement — a 1964 Phi Beta Kappa and valedictorian graduate of Berkeley, a Harvard MBA and Baker Scholar, a former White House fellow and a veteran of the Peace Corps — combined with his business acumen have enabled him to build upon Levi Strauss & Co.’s tradition of values-driven management.
Under Haas’s leadership, Levi Strauss & Co. has expanded its share of the worldwide apparel market, its philanthropic footprint and its worker-friendly policies. When he became CEO in 1984, Levi Strauss & Co. was in trouble. Haas knew a dramatic change was necessary so he spearheaded a $1.7 billion leveraged buyout to return the company to private ownership. Steps were taken to focus decision-making and workplace practices on long-standing corporate values. The strategy worked. Following a decade of record-setting growth, Levi Strauss & Co. is the world’s largest manufacturer of brand-name apparel with an estimated market value of $10 billion.
Haas’s leadership and innovation extend far beyond the financial realm, however. With his involvement, the company has taken on a number of social justice programs for the purpose of improving the quality of life in communities where its employees work and live. For example, Levi Strauss & Co.’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and Haas’s personal involvement in the Business Responds to AIDS campaign highlight a corporate mandate that combines social responsibility with sound business practices.
In addition, the company’s pioneering efforts in the development of workplace standards for production contractors has reaffirmed its reputation for conducting business in a responsible manner. In 1991, Levi Strauss & Co. became the first multi-national company to establish comprehensive Global Sourcing and Operating Guidelines. These requirements help the company select business partners who follow workplace standards and business practices that are consistent with its policies and values. Furthermore, they help ensure that workers receive fair wages, a safe and healthy work environment, and are treated with respect. Haas has proven that it is possible for a modern corporation to be both profitable and humane.
Robert Haas remained CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. until 1999 and chairman until 2008 when he retired and became chairman emeritus. In 1998, President Bill Clinton honored him with the first Ron Brown Award for Corporate Leadership in recognition of Levi’s anti-racism initiative. Haas served on Berkeley’s Haas School of Business advisory board for many years. He and his wife Colleen established the Berkeley Haas Scholars Program to support undergraduate engagement in research, field-study, or creative projects at his alma mater.