My visit with Jennifer Sey, Global CMO of Levi Strauss & Co., at her San Francisco office was nothing short of a magical experience. As we sat in a room covered in eclectic music posters with the original 501s hanging just outside, Jen shared with me her incredible journey from elite gymnast to Global CMO, and all the personal hurdles she had to overcome along the way.
I was mesmerized from beginning to end with all the incredibly impactful moments in her career, both bright and dark, that helped her to find her voice and become the exceptionally well-rounded leader she is today.
Jen started her first career, as an elite gymnast, at age 5, training five hours a day, five days a week. She worked her way through the years to win the USA championships in 1986 and decided she was done shortly thereafter.
“It’s a tough sport. It’s cruel, it’s brutal. And so I was really suffering at about 18 or 19 when I went off to college. I didn’t think about what I wanted to be. I just wanted to not do gymnastics.”
After college, she really wanted to be involved in filmmaking and sampled with different roles until she realized she needed money and couldn’t continue to live off the free hot dogs at happy hours. She joined an agency, working on the Levi’s brand, but continued to dabble in film on the side, keeping her “outside” interests secret from her inside job.
Jen continued on this path of always trying to have it all and juggle it in a way that concealed her true self for fear that she wouldn’t be taken seriously in her corporate world. And then, in 2008, Jen published her memoir “Chalked Up” which sent the Gymnastics world into a brutal frenzy against her as she revealed the dark secrets of the sport.
You are just going to have to listen to Jen tell her story herself — how she dealt with the backlash, how it impacted the people around her, how it grew her confidence, and how she continued to evolve her 20-year career at Levi’s, taking on more and more responsibility while diversifying her skills. Also hear how Jen architected a monumental turnaround for Levi’s to help make Levi’s hot again, how she connects all her passions to help put Levi’s in the center of culture, and how it shaped her leadership style today. This incredible mom of four (18, 15, 4 and 2!) has also produced two short films that have gone to festivals and is currently working on a documentary.
“Underachiever” continues to be my personal takeaway from this week, so I really need to go have another think now. Although I must say, I’m a little proud that today marks the release of the 50th episode of #CMOMoves, which started less than a year ago!