EP 256 – Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles – Global Head of Digital & Emerging Technology Strategy at Levi Strauss & Co. – A Disciplined Approach to Innovation

by | Feb 1, 2023

Asia Tech Podcast recorded an interesting conversation with Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles, Global Head of Digital & Emerging Technology Strategy at Levi Strauss & Co. Levi Strauss & Co. is one of the world's largest brand-name apparel companies and a global leader in jeans wear.

Some of the topics discussed by Dr. Amy:

  • The compulsory elements put in place at Levi Strauss & Co. to try and create the most personalised and relevant experience for each customer
  •  Levi Strauss & Co’s digital transformation and how the continued drive of innovation has enabled Levi’s to have a long standing history
  • The two factors that can be found in companies that have a long standing history that allows them to stay relevant
  • The importance of taking the time and energy to understand and build a proper framework for a company
  • Why AI and data are critical components needed for digital transformation

This episode was produced by Stephanie Ng.

Some other titles we considered for this episode, but ultimately rejected:

  1. The Outreach Needs to Be Targeted to Feel Personalised
  2. Continuing the Relevance
  3. The Driver Is Always the Customer
  4. Successful Innovation Is Focusing on a Few Fundamental Pillars
Read the best-effort transcript

Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):

Michael Waitze 0:03
Hi, this is Michael Waitze and welcome back to the Asia Tech Podcast. Today we are joined by Dr. Amy Gershkoff Bolles, the Global Head of Digital and Emerging Technology Strategy at Levi Strauss & Co. That’s just got to be an amazing thing to do. Anyway, Amy, thank you so much for coming on the show. How are you doing today?

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 0:21
I’m doing great. And Michael, thank you so much for having me. I’m delighted to be here.

Michael Waitze 0:26
It is completely My pleasure. Look, before we get into the main part of this conversation, can we give our listeners a little bit of your background for some context, I want to know how we got to here.

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 0:36
So as you mentioned, I head up global digital and emerging technology strategy at Levi Strauss and Company, which means I’m responsible for our digital emerging tech as it relates to our business, our consumers and our employees. And prior to this, I spent many years working in high growth venture capital and private equity backed companies, where I’ve had both technical and operational roles. I’ve been a founder, CEO of CO General Manager or chief data officer. So I’ve had kind of both that technical and operational experience. I’ve also been an investor and a board advisor. So I’ve spent a lot of time in that kind of startup ecosystem, as well as I’ve also had executive roles at large public companies, as well. And I currently serve as a public company, board director. And in addition, I’ve also spent time in academia. I have a PhD from Princeton, I spent time teaching math at Princeton, I also taught data science at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. So I’ve had that academic experience as well. And then I’ve also had some civic experience, because I have the immense privilege of running media planning and analytics for the Obama for America reelection campaign for President Obama. So I’ve gotten the privilege of working in large public companies, the venture backs and private equity backed startup world, academia and civic organisations. And so I feel like it’s given me a real, very rich view of the landscape overall. So I’m grateful for,

Michael Waitze 2:13
I really want to understand this. And again, if you and I were sitting down having dinner, the first thing I would have to ask you is, what is it like? And what’s the difference really, between running the media planning for, for a public figure, right? Versus the media stuff that you do for a corporation? And the reason why I ask is because the corporate stuff is like constant, it never ends, is there’s a constant story being told if you’re doing the right thing. But for an election, and for an individual, it’s so targeted, and it’s so intense? Like, how do you balance those two things with each other? Right? Just the the pure intensity of this is ending in November? Versus we’re just gonna keep doing this until 2037? Kind of thing?

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 2:56
It’s a great question. And actually, one of the things that I’ve found, you look at sort of my corporate experience and my civic experience, there’s actually a lot of similarities between the the communication that you need to do in both of those situation. So President Obama was seeking to reach voters to either, you know, try to persuade them to vote for him instead of Mitt Romney in his reelection campaign, or to make sure to turn out to vote if he felt like they were reliable Obama supporters, or to ask them for donations if they were such reliable supporters. And he also thought they were financially able to provide some resources. So you know, outreach for persuasion and raising money. In all of those cases, you actually want the outreach to be very targeted, to feel very personalised each voter that we would reach out to we wanted them to feel that the message was crafted just for them, that the outreach felt really personalised to the political issues. They care about the the state or locality that they live in what’s locally relevant in terms of a and we really spent a lot of time and energy creating infrastructure to enable really personalised one to one communications at scale for the campaign. And it was in a way that actually hadn’t been done before, even in corporate America. So following my experience on the Obama campaign, I went to WPP which at the time, I think it still might be the largest advertising conglomerate on the planet, and, you know, handle Communication and Marketing for some of the largest companies on Earth. And all of these, you know, kind of fortune 5000 companies that are WPP clients are really trying to also do the same thing, right, which is to have personalised outreach and communication about their brands about a new product about a service and They want that communication to feel very targeted and personalised. And to really feel that each consumer is being carefully outreach to in a way that’s, that’s really most relevant for them.

Michael Waitze 5:13
But here’s where it gets really interesting, right? Because this idea of personalization, we couldn’t even have thought about, I mean, we can go back to 2012, or 2008, it doesn’t matter. Let’s just go back to 2000. We couldn’t even have thought about personalization. Because our ability to deal with just the amount of data, the plethora of data that we’re getting is different than it is today, and definitely different than it is then. But here’s the key difference. I think, I think, again, I don’t know, when you’re selling a product, right? Sometimes I forget, I’ve lived out of the States for a long time. But sometimes I forget, like how different Massachusetts is. From Texas, it feels like the same thing. And I’m thinking about this because, you know, I flew yesterday from Bangkok, to Ho Chi Minh, it’s not even an hour and a half away. And it’s almost like a different world. Personalization right for a candidate. At the end of the day, it’s just I want your vote. Right? And sure, at the end of the day, it’s like I want you to buy my product. But like, I may be using the jeans, let’s just use jeans as an example. There’s a proxy, right, I may use for work, or I may use for fashion, right? Like I wore jeans out last night to dinner, but some people may work where them to a factory, like how do you personalise that, for a product? Not just for a country? I know it’s really complicated, but not just for our country. But for different countries, like it’s a global company as well. How do you manage all that stuff, too? Yeah, you’re absolutely

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 6:27
right, that it’s a it’s a complex set of challenges. But really, you know, at Levi Strauss & Co., what we’re doing is to try to create the most personalised, relevant experience for each customer. And that has a number of different facets. So for example, making sure that each customer can find a pair of jeans or a top, that’s the right size and style that’s relevant for them. And that’s going to be different for each person. You and I might both be wearing a pair of Levi’s jeans today, but they’re probably different sizes and styles, I would venture to guess that’s true of folks all over the world, right? There’s differences in styles in different markets, there’s different styles or different body types. And what we’re trying to do is make sure that everyone can connect with the most relevant not just products, but experience. You know, Levi’s is this really storied historic brands, we’ve been around 170 years. This year, we’re celebrating the 100 and 50th anniversary of the 501. Gene. It’s been around literally for 150 years. And part of what is continued the relevance of the 501 is to ensure that each person can connect with the right pair of 501 jeans. And we’ve done a lot and especially in the last few years as a company as part of our digital transformation. I’m ensuring that customers can connect with the relevant styles for them, whether it’s online, or in one of our stores, whether that be one through one of our wholesale partners, or through one of our retail stores.

Michael Waitze 8:10
Oh my god, you’re never going to be able to go home from this dinner you and I are having because Is this a new thing? Levi’s, like? Didn’t do big companies just wake up one day and say, Oh, we have to be digitally transformed? Do you know what I mean? Or is it the cause of just like young employees who love the brand, whatever it is come in and say, you know, if we just reorganised our data, stuff, like somebody graduates from Berkeley gets a job in the data science team at Levi Strauss & Co.then says, shouldn’t we change the way we do? Like, what is the driver of this?

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 8:38
It’s a really good question. And I think really the driver is is always the customer. So customers today, and especially if you look at Gen Z customers, their the way they experience the world is very different than how Gen Xers like myself grew up experiencing the world. For someone who’s in Gen Z, the line between the physical world and the digital world has totally erased. They have friends that they’ve met online that they’re now friends with in real life. They have friends from real life that they now interact with online, they might see an amazing new style or products online, and then go into a retail store to buy it. Or they might be inspired by an experience they had online that helped them connect with you know, new new styles and then be able to buy that also online. There’s no line anymore for them between the physical and the digital world. And so a key reason that companies it became an imperative for companies to think about digital transformation is because that’s where the tumour is, and we always have to start consumer first as a best practice and follow the way that they’re leading their lives and design Billy Interactive. experiences for them as a customer that matches what will not not just matches their expectations, but will inspire and delight them and create a long lasting relationship with the brand.

Michael Waitze 10:11
I want to get back to Gen Z in a second. Because this merging of the physical world in the digital world is something that’s so interesting to me. Do you think that big companies in general, I mean, I like to split things into two categories, those that get it? Right, and those that don’t get it? And do you feel like when you joined that the company already understood it, they’re like, We need to hire someone like me to come in and do this thing, because the whole world is changing. And we know it’s changing, we have to get on this boat, otherwise, we’re gonna miss it. Do you know what I mean?

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 10:40
At Levi Strauss, the imperative of digital transformation started several years before I joined. And Levi’s has been, I think, really amazing at continuing to reinvent itself over the last many decades. And that’s part of what has enabled the company to have such a long standing history is that continued drive for innovation. And in fact, our CEO, Chuck Burt likes to say that, you know, Levi’s was the original Silicon Valley startup was a partnership between our founder, Mr. Strauss and a tailor named Mr. Davis and they patented the 501 gene, right. So and then obviously, the company has evolved significantly since then. But the idea is that continual reinvention, that continual transformation, following the customer and what they’re wanting from an experience, and then continuing to keep the brand relevant under those on what is

Michael Waitze 11:39
it about the brand that doesn’t lose relevance? That’s really interesting for me, and the other thing is, what is the internal DNA there that causes this drive for innovation? I mean, yeah, if you go back and look at the founding story of the company, these were entrepreneurs and like real ones, because back then, when this company was founded, right, there was no Silicon Valley, there was no venture capitalism. They just went out and really borrowed money from like, their friends, their grandparents, or whatever, if if that, and then started this, how does that DNA persist all the way through 100, and something years later, today?

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 12:11
So as we look at sort of Levi’s history, I think one of the things that the company has done really well is this process of continual innovation. And I think that if you look sort of historically, at other companies, there are not many companies around the world that can say that they’ve been around for 107 years. But if you look at other companies with a similarly long history, they they all have similar DNA, in terms of price process of continuous innovation, in terms of always being customer centric, and putting the customer first and putting the customer at the centre of decisioning. Those two factors together are really important driver of the longevity of of a brand into maintaining a brand’s relevance in an era where you know, every era there’s so much change. And so in order to maintain that relevance, you always have to be following the customer behaviour.

Michael Waitze 13:11
What’s your view on the possibility and the likelihood of let’s say, taking, taking somebody who’s in a role like this at a different company that didn’t have this history of innovation? And just getting dropped in and just saying, okay, look, you have a blank slate, we need to do digital transformation. Do you even think it’s possible? I’ll tell you the reason why I’m asking I look back at all the products that I use when I was a kid, right in the the companies that I really admired. We can talk about technology companies, we have to talk with your some of them are gone. I mean, I remember when my roommate walked into my room with a Compaq computer literally carrying it. I had one of those as well, I’m sure you did. And it was so amazing to count on. Like, that’s a computer because the guy upstairs had an IBM 80 or something, which I also thought was amazing. But neither one of those companies really has the same relevance. Like before, when someone said, Oh, that dude works at compact. I was like, Oh, my God, Rodkin. This is amazing. And I’m not just saying this, like one of the reasons why I want to do this is because I’m a big brand believer, but it’s like, I wear Levi’s when I was 12. And I still wear them today. And my perception of the company is the same or better than it was today. I mean, than it was 25 or 35 years ago. Right. So what do you do for a company that doesn’t have that DNA? To kind of change it? Is it even possible? Do you think?

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 14:20
I think it’s definitely possible. It’s of course easier if the company has a culture of innovation, but if not, I think really innovation, you know, successful innovation is about really focusing on a few key fundamental pillars. So first and foremost is talent strategy. It’s incredibly important to think about talent. First and foremost, I always like to say no one ever did anything interesting at work all by themselves. It always takes a team of people to accomplish anything. No one succeeds alone. No one succeeds alone. As the other expression goes, there’s no I in team And so for that reason, it’s really important to think about recruiting, retaining and growing your talents. At Levi’s, for example, we’ve invested a lot in upskilling, our our employees, and and continuing to ensure that they have the next generation of digitally relevant skills. But it’s important just generally, to really spend and invest both time and resources, and hire, retaining great talent. The second thing that becomes really important is to ensure that you’re sort of simultaneously creating processes that are agile and enable a test and learn environment, while also building for scale. And this is a real challenge for most companies, many companies that had a wonderful history, but don’t exist anymore. We’re a company that get one or the other of those well, but not both. In other words, they were great speed and agility, and testing and learning, but not so great at building long lasting scale in their products. Similarly, there are other companies that are so good at building for scale, that it becomes too challenging and cumbersome to innovate, because there’s no mechanism for an agile test and learn process. And so the companies that have had the most success with innovation have figured out how to bring in and keep the best talent. And then they’ve also figured out how to do that simultaneous testing, and build for scale. And that’s what leads to sort of a long lasting, you know, brand and company that can withstand many changes to external factors, consumer behaviour and withstand the test of time,

Michael Waitze 16:55
when I was at Morgan Stanley and Tokyo would periodically they would send guys and gals out from New York tech guys, mostly because that’s where the talent was. And we were building out tonnes of new technology. I want to talk about that in a second as well. And I asked one of these guys wants, who was this was a gentleman and asked him he was so good at his job, like so good at it. And I said to him, why don’t you just go out and start your own company, we’d like the rewards to you are so much higher. And he didn’t even have to think about it. He just looked at me. And he said, big banks have big problems. And real technologists want to solve big problems. And I it’s changed the way I thought about this. How do you now hire people? Because this talent thing is so important? I was having this conversation with somebody last night, how do you get the right talent? When there’s this siren call of, you know, you could work at this super hot startup? Like you could go work it? I don’t want to say magically, because not that hot anymore. But you know what I mean? Like you could go work at a super hot startup, how do you convince people that this is actually a better opportunity? Do you know what I mean? Because that fight for talent is hard. And it’s now global, right? You have companies like Turing saying, You don’t need to hire an engineer in Silicon Valley. You can hire them in hajiman, or in Hanoi, right? Or in Bangkok, we’ll find them for you or in India, how do you balance all that stuff, too.

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 18:11
So one of the things that I think has been really exciting in the last few years is we’ve seen the market for talent open up to be truly global, like you describe, for many companies, our list of where in the world they’re based, they can hire talent that is based elsewhere, whether it’s in other cities or other countries. And one of the things that I think is so exciting about that is enables and access to a diversity of talents that most companies never had before. I’ve had a number of global roles at large public companies, where I’ve had team members in 12 1314 different countries. And what was amazing about that one, it will actually three one is I got to know a lot of amazing people all over the world. So now wherever I travel, I have friends that I can call and who can show me the best local restaurants. And that’s been amazing. But the two reasons why that was fantastic, is number one, for most companies, their customers are global. And so by having global talent, you have an understanding of the customer experience on a market by market basis that you absolutely cannot get with just even the best research is not a substitute for having people who live in that market, who shop in that market who spend their lives their lives in that market who can tell you nuances about the customer experience that you absolutely can’t get anywhere else. Yeah, the second reason than having global talents is an amazing asset is because very smart people all over the world. Think about our technical problems, or difficult business challenges differently. Their approach is different their mind setup is different. And so in some of my prior roles, for example, when I was at eBay, I had team members from a number of different countries who would collaborate on problems. And the callback caused some timezone and other sorts of challenges, it led to a much better technical solution in every case, because we were bringing together different approaches different mindsets. And the same was true at WPP. And other companies that have a global footprint. And that that really was game changing, to be able to to work with brilliant people that were all over the world, it gave us a different view on on the challenges we were facing.

Michael Waitze 20:41
So I’ve said this at the beginning of this recording, but I’ve lived in Asia for the last 32 years, right. And I’ve travelled all over the region, meeting new people and different people. And for me, like diversity, it’s just they’re constantly, I don’t need to be convinced kind of thing. And I’m not saying that in a good way or bad way, per se. But you know, when I grew up, I went to a school that looked a lot like me all the time. Let’s just say that. Yeah. And how do you convince again, is the wrong word, but like, how do you tell people or educate people about the fact that, you know, if we have these people from Myanmar on the team, they’re gonna give us some insights into stuff? Because they’ve never experienced it? You know what I mean, you have? And some people haven’t, how do you? What’s the epiphany moment for them? Where they say, oh, yeah, actually, having that perfect person from Rwanda here is awesome.

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 21:25
I mean, my whole experience and my almost 20 year career, anytime I’ve had diverse, global team with perspectives from all over the world, it’s just radically enhanced. Yeah, the ability of the team to solve challenges. It’s been enriching to creating better customer experiences. And it’s been fun for the employees as well to get to connect with people all over the world. And so to me that opportunity to create teams that are diverse and global, isn’t isn’t an option. It’s the only two really solving interesting sets of challenges.

Michael Waitze 22:09
I could not agree with you more. Can we get back to the metaverse for a second? What is the real difference that is manifested through this digital world, the physical world thing? And do you want to spend any time talking about companies like Levi Strauss, like PWC, like Accenture, actually buying space in the sandbox, right? So in the metaverse, this thing run by Animoca brands, like what is there a strategy there as well? In other words, look, we were kids, we used to say, why can’t we instead of going into a store and trying to sell and why can’t we just like stand in front of a camera kind of spin around? And it knows my size? Exactly. Like what and then I just get it. It’s been a pipe dream for a long time. I know people are doing this right. But how does that work?

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 22:49
Yeah, the metaverse is super interesting, because it’s one of many spaces in emerging technology, where there’s obviously a lot of hype and a lot of interest by both technologists and consumers and a tonne of opportunity for brands. But there are also lots of other spaces that provide a lot of opportunity for brands and companies in the industrial 4.0 space. For example, it’s not talked about in consumer press as much as the metaverse but there’s no less opportunity there in terms of the ability to impact supply chain operations, go to market and enhance the consumer experience through those channels as well. So because there’s so much opportunity in emerging technology, and by the way, web three Dotto and industrial flinto are just two of many cool industry of opportunity. This is why when I arrived at Levi Strauss & Co., the first thing that that my team did was to create a framework for evaluating emerging technology and innovation opportunities. And we spent time thinking first, not about innovation projects we should tackle as a company. But first establishing what is the criteria by which we should determine which projects to tackle as a company, because there’s so much opportunity today and every day, there are new opportunities being created, because the industry is moving so quickly. So what we did was to build this emerging technology framework. And what it allows you to do is take a very disciplined approach to innovation. And so at Levi Strauss & Co., what we do is for any emerging technology or innovation opportunity, we evaluate that opportunity against a series of criteria and the criteria include resonance with our brands and our corporate values. Levi’s is a very values driven company. And so that resonance is important to us. We assess the resonance of the innovation opportunity with our overall corporate strategy and having that synergy between how we’re thinking about innovating and what our strategic pillars are as an organisation, we found to be incredibly important, we obviously undertake a very rich and deep financial analysis to ensure that any innovation opportunity we would consider ultimately will have significant enterprise value for us as a business and our and our shareholders as well as our customers. And finally, and most importantly, we look at the positive impact that any innovation would have on the customer experience and make sure that we’re always starting with that customer centric viewpoint. And so I established this framework working collaboratively with executives from across the organisation to ensure that there was alignment around what the criteria would be that we would use to evaluate innovation opportunities. And then what this allows us to do is take this framework and apply it to a decisioning in any area be at the metaverse, industrial 4.0, or any of the other 1000s of areas of opportunity in this very rich emerging technology environment.

Michael Waitze 26:05
I think I’m gonna make the title of this episode a disciplined approach to innovation. And one of the reasons why I like this is because you do have to have a framework first before you can start making decisions about which technology you going to employ. How are you going to employ it? Where are you going to employ it and what you expect the output to be? You can’t just wake up one day and say, and a lot of companies do do this right? We have to be in the metaverse. What’s the point? Like, why are we there? What are we trying to do? Are we just jumping on the hype of this because I call these people chasers. I say this all the time, like you see these guys and gals on LinkedIn, and whatever changed like their middle name to blockchain, or to whatever the thing is of the day. They’re never doing anything. They’re just chasing something. Anyway, I love this idea about a disciplined approach to innovation. How does this drop down, though, to like regular, everyday employees? And this is why I’m asking, you know, when I was a sales trader, we built this thing called Smart sales straighter, we took all this time to amalgamate all this data. And to enhance our ability to be customer centred, as you said, we want to serve our customers better, how can we get information fast enough so that they can react to market changes instantaneously. And we know we don’t have to look it up. Because our technology is already out there looking at what’s happening in the market, going into an investor’s portfolio, telling us what they have, and then making recommendations to us to be able to tell to that it was amazing. And it changed our lives, what’s changing lives that like the day to day employees at Levi Strauss, and frankly, you’re right. It can be in the supply. These are things that people don’t talk about, it can be in the supply chain, it can be in the manufacturing process, it can be in just the ordering process. And I’ve worked with companies out here, TM x is one of them, that does digital twins for every warehouse that they build, and sometimes before they build them, so they can walk through, right using VR and augmented reality technology with the people that are trying to build this and say, Actually, this needs to be over there. Because otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to me. So what changes for the employees,

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 27:59
I think one of the things that is really exciting, I Strathcom. Part of why the company has existed for 170 plus years, is because there’s so much innovation in the culture all the way from the most senior leadership to you know, other just rank and file employees as well, that culture is sort of embedded in the company’s DNA. So what’s really exciting about this kind of framework, and the disciplined approach to innovation that we’ve taken, is it’s enabled the company to evaluate innovation opportunities in this emerging technology, space, and help harness the creative energy and innovative energy of employees all over the world that our framework shows are best to focus on. And so by leveraging this framework, like you’re saying, like you had mentioned, you know, FOMO is not a strategy, right? We don’t want to be in chasing an innovation idea that’s not right for the brand, or that’s not right for our customers, simply because it’s showing up more frequently in technology news feeds, what we want to do is take an approach that’s authentic to us as a company that’s authentic to us as a brand, and enables our employees all over the world, to think about ways to innovate and the areas that are most relevant for us and for our customers.

Michael Waitze 29:21
I love and is this in different locations as well? Do you know what I mean? Like you have different frameworks for different places. I asked this because when I was in Singapore, in September, I actually went shopping and bought a pair of jeans. And I just wonder like the salespeople must drift down to them or dripped down to them as well that they you know, when you walk into the store, they already know what I’ve bought previously, what my size is all this stuff. And even that I don’t even live in Singapore, like what type of data is drifted down or dripped down to the retail locations that they might not have had before to make the salespeople even better?

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 29:52
Yeah, we at Levi Strauss, we’ve taken the approach of wanting to create the most memorable personal lysed and delightful shopping experience for each customer all over the globe in whatever way they choose to engage with us, whether that’s shopping through at one of our retail stores, whether it’s engaging with products in one of our wholesale partners, or whether it’s shopping with us online, and to enable the ongoing discovery of new products or styles that they might be interested in to help them find the the styles that are going to look the best and fit the best and best resonate with them, as well as all the way through to having a really successful and smooth purchase experience. And even post purchase. You know, we have a millions of people across the globe who are members of our loyalty programme and to engage with us in that way as well. And that’s enabled us to drive even better personalised experiences, through understanding your loyalty programme, the different consumer preferences, and we strive to create that experience for customers all over the globe. And for each customer to feel like the experience, it wasn’t just designed for their market, it was designed for them personally, in a way that feels authentic and enables them to continue to connect with our brand.

Michael Waitze 31:13
Are there certain things that brands can do, right, that are available for, let’s say to brands tend to do even if it works, right? Even if it works for like just getting people to discover you or to buy more stuff, but it just doesn’t fit the brand image? Does that make sense? Do you know what I mean? where let’s say brand A can do this really amazing thing? And brand B looks at and says we should, but we can’t because it doesn’t fit us? Do you find those conundrums as well. From a technology perspective, yeah.

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 31:39
So this is why we spent quite a bit of time and energy really thinking through the framework to enable us to make sure that as we were evaluating various technology opportunities, we were doing it in a framework and a methodology that was going to ensure that any innovation opportunities that we decided to pursue, were going to resonate with us as a brand and with in particular, as well, our company values being that we’re such a values driven company. So this is where I am a big believer in encouraging companies to think about developing a framework like this that is authentic to who they are. And then just being very disciplined in the application of that framework, sort of, irrespective of what new technology might receive the most hype, or might be discussed the most in the news, really about what’s actually best for your company, for your brand and for your consumers. And that’s really the framework that we’ve developed at Levi Strauss.

Michael Waitze 32:46
You know, sometimes when I talk to senior corporate executives, I wonder like how they find enough time to do all the things that they’re doing, right, you teach you invest? You also have a day job, like I don’t know, sometimes I wonder like, are you even old enough to have had all the experience that you have? Because it doesn’t seem like there’s been enough time, maybe there are 36 hours in your day there aren’t in mind, as, but it’s fun, right? And I don’t want to go down this rabbit hole. But it’s fun, right? That’s why you do it. I do a tonne of things too. And it’s like, every time I deal with somebody new, it’s so much fun. And I learned so much. Do you engage as a company with startups strategically to learn about these new technologies? Is that part of the framework that you’ve built? And also do you maintain a? I mean, you must personally but as a corporate policy? Do you maintain relationships with venture capitalists as well. And a lot of corporates are now starting to see VCs, right corporate venture capital companies, so they can look at them and say, Wait, we need to invest in this. How do all three of those things work together?

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 33:44
And it’s a great question. And when I joined Levi Strauss and Company, one of the things that I did was I formed a partnership with Silicon Valley Bank, Silicon Valley Bank, as you and your listeners probably know, is one of the largest financial institutions in the world. They are the bank for a huge majority. I’ve can’t remember the exact number, but a huge majority of startups all over the globe. And they also are the bank for a majority of venture capital firms all over the globe. So they actually have an incredible network of an ecosystem and understanding of the ecosystem as it relates to technology startups in particular. And so through our partnership with them, we hosted a startup pitch day, last year, last fall, where we worked with Silicon Valley Bank to vet more than 4000 companies. And we invited 10 startups to come to pitch us. And in that pitch process, those were 10 companies that we thought have some very promising technologies that we want to learn more about and engage in a dialogue with them. In addition, we’ve continued our partnership with Silicon Valley Bank, and they’ve continued to keep us apprised of exciting startups in the ecosystem and other companies and trends that they’re seeing in the marketplace. And what this has enabled us to do is stay close to the startup ecosystem, to be aware of new cutting edge companies and developments. And we’re planning to continue to host startup pitch days with them on a kind of regularise basis going forward. And to continue to use that partnership, to stay very close to what’s what’s up and coming in the space. And maintaining that connective tissue with the startup community is incredibly important. Because industry is changing and evolving. So quickly, there are new companies all over the world that are being created every day in the space. And so we’re really excited and delighted to have SPB as a partner to help us connect with the latest and greatest, most exciting new technology as as they’re being forged.

Michael Waitze 36:11
So sometimes in your position, right, and frankly, in mind is well, we get exposed to new technologies before the rest of the world does. I mean, you mentioned earlier that like the the consumer press doesn’t mention anything that’s happening in the sort of digital twin space and all this other stuff that happens in the b2b space, right? Which is a shame, because that’s where a lot of the innovation is actually happening. The b2c stuff. Frankly, it’s interesting, but the real change, the dramatic change takes place for me, I think, at the business level, because then that filters down anyway. What is the impact now that GPT, three and artificial intelligence and open AI all this stuff that Altman and the team they’re doing is now filtering out to the rest of the world? What is the impact of that stuff? Really, when you think about in the context of the framework that you’ve built, and the business that you’re in? Where does this stuff fit into what you’re trying to accomplish?

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 37:00
Yeah, so AI and data are just absolutely critical to any, almost any company thinking about digital transformation. And they’re a core part of how Levi Strauss and Company is thinking about our digital transformation as well. But that said, of course, data and AI is an enormous people’s. And so that’s why we created this framework to enable us to be able to evaluate emerging technologies, even just within the field of AI, each evaluating each individual opportunities, thinking about the resonance with our brand and corporate values, our overall corporate strategy, looking at the financials of what’s the real impact that this could have for us as the business? And most importantly, what’s the positive impact on the consumer experience. And I think the the field of AI is very exciting. And obviously, I’ve spent significant aspects of my career leveraging AI as ways to drive value and growth for a number of companies that I’ve worked at in advise. But I also believe in the need for a very disciplined innovation approach, given how many opportunities there are within the AI space.

Michael Waitze 38:12
When you look back, right? I mean, look, you mentioned the fact you have a PhD from Princeton, right? When you look back, like from the moment you graduated, even as an undergraduate, right. By the way, Cornell, what an amazing place, the gorgeous, unbelievable, I loved Ethica. Anyway, when you look back at like what you thought you’d because you’re studying all this stuff, maybe slightly, idealistically and thinking, how can we use this technology to do this stuff? As kind of that idealism catches up to today’s realism? Do you look back and think, yeah, a lot of the stuff that I thought was gonna happen is now happening. Do you know what I mean? And is that exciting for you?

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 38:47
I actually entered the old because of my father has been a long standing technologist for many decades now. And he always encouraged me from a very young age to pursue math and science, and really does this sort of STEM STEM fields, if you will. Because his belief was that all decisions should be data driven decisions, and that, you know, if you have a solid foundation in understanding how data and technology can be used to make decisions that this will serve you well, in any role or job that you might have, in almost any industry, that that that approach to technology being additive and to data being necessary for for enabling business is is useful in any industry. And so he always encouraged me to go into this field with the mindset that whatever industry or ultimate profession I chose, it would be well served by a solid background in quantitative decision making and so me said all this Spoken like a true CIO, which he was I’m very grateful that he encouraged me to go down this path. Because he was right. I’ve worked now a number of as I mentioned, large public companies, small venture backed startups, I’ve worked in, you know, everything from politics to the world of advertising to technology companies. And what I found is that being able to have a disciplined, data driven quantitative approach to making decisions is critical. Whether you’re in a technical or operational role in any industry,

Michael Waitze 40:28
did you feel when you were a little girl, and I use that term on purpose? Like when you were a nine year old? Or a 10? year old? Did you know or did you feel like your dad was an outlier? Do you know what I mean? Do you feel like that was a conversation that was being had in other of your young girlfriends, and even girlfriends houses? Like, all your decisions need to be data driven, quantitative decision making is going to change? Do you know what I mean? Or did you feel at some point like, wow, that was actually really transformational for me personally, and I want to bring this up, because this is actually really important to me. Did you feel like that? Because I really want to understand like this outlier part of your dad, because it’s super interesting. But also the fact that even in your generation, right, that being a woman in your position is not still normal. It should be it’s not rare. But do you feel like your dad was an outlier? And then do you feel like now that you’re an adult, and dealing with all this stuff that you look around, and just think so many talented women out there should be doing more of this?

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 41:22
Yeah, I absolutely credit my father with changing, you know, my entire, you know, career trajectory in life through this enthusiasm for a data and for quantitative decision making, I believe I was very lucky, because I don’t think very many other young girls have the benefits of a real champion for you know, to encouraging them to go into STEM fields. And I think if more parents, caregivers, mentors, teachers, encouraged women to enter STEM fields, we would start to see more parents, we are actually starting to see that the data show, it’s moving, that there are more women entering STEM fields today than there were when I was a kid, and I’m pleased to see the data are moving in the right direction. But there’s always more work to do to encourage all all kids really, to mature to enter STEM fields. Because that foundational grounding is very useful, regardless of their career trajectory.

Michael Waitze 42:28
I could not agree with you more do you want to talk about chief a little bit and why that’s so important. So

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 42:31
yes, I’d love to talk about chief. So I was one of the founding members of chief in San Francisco. And Chief is for those listeners of your listeners who may not know, chief is an organisation dedicated to getting more women into C suite roles and boardroom roles, and to keeping them there. And Chief has been an amazing and transformational organisation. For I think now 10s of 1000s of women across the United States that the organisation only started a few years ago and has grown very rapidly. And now they’ve expanded, they’ve begun to expand internationally, they opened a chapter in the UK, I believe, just last week, they’re starting to be the beginnings of taking this organisation and expanding their work globally, which will hopefully help other senior women leaders all over the world to achieving, you know, more of a presence in executive, boardroom. And I’ve personally found it incredibly valuable to be part of a network of women who are so encouraging and inspiring. And it’s been very helpful from a professional development standpoint. And I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to now connect with other senior women leaders all over the country, and hopefully, shortly, not only in the UK, but all over the world

Michael Waitze 43:57
all over the world. The last thing I want to ask you, before I let you go is as technology becomes more and more part of everybody’s life, right? I feel like we’re a little bit at a tipping point or an inflection point in a way, in the sense that artificial intelligence and the stuff that we discussed earlier, is now making people afraid of their own ability to earn a living. And yet, in the same at the same time, people are worried about recessions as well. So there’s a lot of worry about, like how technology is impacting people. And my feeling on this is that cycles cyclically, right? Things just happened so much faster. I mean, recessions used to be five years long, I lived through the 70s. I remember the oil price shocks, I remember stagflation and just thinking, This feels like it’s never going to end. But I think on the flip side technology also make those cycles, shorter, faster, as well. And that humans seem to be really good about figuring out like, what can tech do to make our lives better, and yet still find a way to stay employed? Am I wrong here? Like what’s the challenge here? So

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 44:55
technology, of course, has been kind of continually evolving since since humans have been on the planet, right? Yeah, there was the, you know, invention of the wheel, which was game changing. There was you know, if you go to more recent history right there were a lot of horse and buggy companies that were put out of business with the arrival of the automobile. And now we’re starting to see globally electric cars beginning to replace in many markets and it’s you know, beginning to spread globally replace, you know, gasoline powered vehicles. So technology transformation is nothing new. And I think technology transformation is nothing is nothing new. That’s been part of the human experience for a long time. I think the companies that will stand the test of time, like Levi Strauss and Company has done with our 173 and we’re even more excited about the next 170 years are the ones that have that culture of continuous innovation, of always thinking about how to, you know how the customer experience is changing or needs to change, to continue to inspire and delight the customer and to create a memorable lasting relationship between the customer and the brand.

Michael Waitze 46:11
That is the perfect way to end Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles, the Global Head of Digital Emerging Technology Strategy at Levi Strauss & Co. Thank you so much for doing that today.

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles 46:20
Thank you for having me.

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