NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Levi's has gone outside the fashion industry for its first global chief marketing officer, with the hope the move will be step one in a transformation of its beleaguered brand.
Jaime Cohen Szulc spent more than a decade with Eastman Kodak and has been exposed to plenty of consumer products in stints with S.C. Johnson and Procter & Gamble, but this will be his first foray into fashion and apparel. It also marks a return to a marketing-specific role for Mr. Szulc, who has spent a number of years in general management.
Most recently he was worldwide chief operating officer for Kodak Eastman's consumer digital group. Before that he served as general manager for Latin America, general manager for the Americas and chairman of Eastman Kodak, Europe. He will relocate from Miami to San Francisco and begin work on Aug. 31.
A statement from Levi's highlighted Mr. Szulc's track record of leading business turnarounds at companies including Eastman Kodak, S.C. Johnson and P&G. And it seems Levi's is looking for a turnaround -- or, in Mr. Szulc's words, a transformation -- of its own. The brand has had plenty of new entrants to contend with in the saturated denim market in recent years. And premium denim lines such as True Religion, Seven For All Mankind and Joe's Jeans have put a damper on Levi's cool quotient. The economy has also been battering the company, which reported that sales fell 8% in the first half.
"Levi's has an established, iconic brand, but in my view it has a lot of potential to create that consumer experience that will take the brand to new heights," Mr. Szulc said. "I probably talked to 20 companies [before taking this position] and more than 80% of them wanted some kind of transformation. ... But some of those companies don't have the skin in the game. They want to change but aren't committed to change. I can assure you that from the people I've talked to [at Levi's], they are committed."
It's also clear that the company is willing to look to outsiders for new ideas. Earlier this summer, Blake Jorgensen, former chief financial officer at Yahoo, came on board as Levi's CFO. Mr. Szulc said the company is looking to embrace outside perspectives and has expressed a desire to learn from other industries.
Strong business acumen
Mr. Szulc brings not only expertise outside the fashion industry but also strong business acumen to the CMO role. Jeffrey Hayzlett, CMO at Kodak, said Mr. Szulc's return to the marketing suite makes perfect sense.
"Good marketers need to be good businesspeople, so if you've got a little bit of both, you can be dangerous," Mr. Hayzlett said. "He'll really bring some new insight into that company. He brought a real good energy [to Kodak] but also some real practical knowledge about consumer experience and value proposition. ... He's multilingual, multicultural and, having a marketing and business background, he's multifaceted."
Mr. Szulc joins Levi's following a number of changes to its agency roster and the launch of a major marketing campaign. Late last year, the company handed its creative account to Wieden & Kennedy and gave media buying and planning duties to OMD. Earlier this summer, the brand launched a global campaign, "Go Forth."
Mr. Szulc acknowledged he's inheriting quite a bit but struck a humble note when asked what changes he might make to the marketing strategy. "I need to sit in and listen and understand where they are. If we ever make changes [to the agency roster], we'll have a solid rationale for doing that," he said. "From everything I've seen, the thought process they've been through on strategic planning and agency planning has been solid. I'm inheriting a solid strategy and team."