Many industry observers and analysts question his ability to turn around an apparel company facing a double-digit sales decline for the second year in a row.
"I don't know how this guy fits into a fashion company," said Walter Loeb, a retail analyst and publisher of The Loeb Retail Letter.
Mr. Marineau, 52, former president-CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America, brings to the beleaguered Levi Strauss a respected marketing track record, including 23 years at Quaker Oats Co., where he rose to president and developed Gatorade into a $1 billion product. Following his exit from Quaker, where he was considered the fall guy for its botched acquisition of Snapple, he was president of Dean Foods Co.
But Pepsi quickly hired him and, within 20 months of taking the job, he made a marketing splash with the launch of Pepsi One, plus a move to broaden the brand's appeal beyond a teen target.
Those qualities of "a talented brand builder and an innovative leader with a track record of expanding market share in competitive environments"-as the company put it in a short statement-won him not only the job of succeeding the retiring Peter Jacobi as president but also the CEO post given up by Chairman Bob Haas.
It's only the second time in company history it has hired someone not descended from its founder.
PRODUCT GURU NEEDED
Although with "more wins than losses in his background," Mr. Marineau faces bigger challenges than he did selling soda, said Harry Bernard, senior partner-chief marketing officer at consultancy Colton Bernard.
"Levi Strauss' biggest problem is not marketing. What's in a package has to be as good as the package itself-they need a product guru," he said.
Unlike the package-goods business, where retailers bow to large product marketers, he added, "in the fashion world, retailers don't roll over for anybody unless you have a destination brand."
Mr. Bernard also says Mr. Marineau has to "figure out who he needs to replace and why."
Mr. Loeb wonders whether Mr. Haas will actually step aside and let Mr. Marineau take over.
"I don't think family pride will allow them to do it," Mr. Loeb said.
Still, experts such as Burt Flickinger, managing director of Reach Marketing, said Mr. Marineau is an "entrepreneurial, disciplined guy who understands pop culture." He predicted the executive will not fizzle out as did previous Pepsi President John Sculley when he took over Apple Computer.
These business strengths will outweigh concerns over fashion, he said.
"There are only a couple of fashion gods," he said. "And they are primarily