Behind the Scenes of LS&Co’s Wildly Popular Product Development Academy

Levi Strauss & Co.
March 21, 2016

Last February, the LS&Co. Product Development (PD) Academy opened its doors to the first incoming “class” of PD assistants.
The brainchild of Brett Glickman, Senior Director Global PD of Women’s Jeanswear, Chris Screnci, Senior Director PD of Global Tops and Linda Gallegos, R&D Researcher, the PD Academy is a training program designed to impart wisdom about all aspects of the company—from customs and duties to financial strategies to creating the perfect fit on a pair of jeans—upon entry-level employees.
When they first kicked off the program, Brett, Chris and Linda weren’t sure how much traction it would have, questioning how much demand there would be for an education beyond an employee’s typical roles and responsibilities.
But the response they got was better than they ever expected.
“We started at the beginning of February and we had 18 courses throughout the year, ending in December,” said Brett, who explained that classes were held during normal work hours—about two to three per month. The “students” would take time out of their days to attend class and learn more about the topic of the day—the very first being fabric and fiber. Brett added: “We had about 450 total attendees and a lot of people attended more than one course.”
Linda, who was in charge of the logistics of the PD Academy, was not only impressed by the overall demand for the classes amongst LS&Co. employees, but also by the participation from the teachers themselves.
“These people were setting aside time out of their busy schedules to put together the curriculum and pull together their classes,” said Linda. “They really brought their knowledge to the table, and I think that’s a huge testament to the people we have working here.”
Among some of the “teachers” tapped to lead the PD Academy presentations were David Love, Executive Vice President, Chief Supply Chain Officer and Chief Transformation Officer, who taught a class on navigating through the ranks (a fan favorite of both Brett and Chris), the compliance department, who taught a class called Customs and Duties: How to Avoid Them Legally, and Bart Sights, Director of Global Development who led a class at Levi’s® Eureka Innovation Lab, called: A Day in the Life of a Finishing Technician.
“The people that we have teaching the classes collectively have hundreds of years of experience,” said Brett. “I actually don’t think we could even find this knowledge base on the outside.”
According to Chris, the benefits an entry-level employee gets out of the academy are numerous: “We tried to apply the course curriculum to really promote a higher level of engagement with the employees, so they really know what’s expected of them at work, know what tools and system they have to support the work that they do and know how to learn and grow in the organization.”
Interestingly, the PD Academy was initially meant to be a one-off—starting and ending with the inaugural class.
“We actually weren’t thinking about running this program again this year,” said Chris. “Because the response was so positive, we all sat down and said, ‘we cannot not do this again.’ We’ve already created something and to not do that would be a disservice to the company.”
The 2016 curriculum, modeled closely after the 2015 plan, will similarly offer 18 courses, with a few new additions, like engineering the perfect-fitting product and learning what 1873 (the year Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss invented the blue jean) and 2016 have in common. According to Chris, the PD Academy founders conducted a survey to find out what participants did and didn’t like about last year’s courses—a process that brought about one significant change: “This year, we’re opening up the classes to other levels of people within the organization within product development.”
Brett is optimistic that this year’s program will see comparable engagement to last year’s. If the academy’s extension plan and the countless emails that Brett, Linda and Chris received—all saying something along the lines of “Can I take those classes, too?”—are any indication, 2016 is shaping up to be bigger and better than ever.