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May 7, 2021

Jen Sey is the global brand president at Levi Strauss & Co.,  where she is responsible for marketing, design, merchandising, and brand experience. Jen has been with Levi Strauss & Co. for more than 20 years, holding a variety of leadership positions within the Marketing, Strategy, and Ecommerce teams. In 2013, Jen became the global chief marketing officer for the Levi’s brand and in 2018 was appointed senior vice president and chief marketing officer, overseeing marketing for the company’s portfolio of brands.

Jen has been named one of AdAge’s "Top 40 Marketers Under 40" one of Brand Innovators' "Top 50 Women in Marketing," Billboard Magazine’s "Top 25 Most Powerful People in Music and Fashion," receiver of the CMO Social Responsibility Award and she was featured on Forbes CMO Next List: 50 Chief Marketers Who Are Redefining the CMO role.

As a child, Jen led an intense life of dedication, challenge, and competition. She won the U.S. National Gymnastics Championship title in 1986, less than one year after having suffered a devastating injury at the 1985 World Championships. As a result, the U.S. Olympic Committee named her Gymnastics’ Athlete of the Year. Jen retired after eight years on the national team and went on to study at Stanford University. In 2008, Jen released a memoir, “Chalked Up,” a New York Times E-Book Best Seller detailing her triumphs and struggles within the world of competitive gymnastics. Jen's book led to her producing a Netflix documentary on the investigation and ultimate conviction of Larry Nassar and the decades-long abusive culture of USA Gymnastics.

This was a pretty wide-ranging conversation and Jen really over delivered on the leadership advice here, focusing a lot on how climbing the corporate ladder is not always a recipe for success in corporate America, as well as details on how Levi's weathered the storm of COVID-19 and keys to establishing an authentic company culture. 


Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Jen.

  • Focus on expansion over upward progression. This is a great piece of career advice. In addition to her executive position at a Fortune 500 brand, Jen is a former elite athlete, published author, and successful documentary producer. She has had accomplishments in many disparate arenas, and each experience seems to have compounded to develop her professionally in ways that serve just about everything she does. This may run counter to the 'Jack of all trades' debate, but Jen makes it work beautifully. When Jen found herself overly focused on climbing the corporate ladder, she frequently felt stuck. What Jen found to be a much more effective and enjoyable strategy for her career progression was to focus on experiences and projects that would expand her skill sets and knowledge base. Doing so made her a much more well-rounded professional with the ability to pivot, adapt, and learn new skills, all of which served her tremendously as a leader.


  • Bring a unified version of yourself to everything you do. When publishing her first book, Jen's initial instinct was to be silent about it out of concern it could make her seem less dedicated to her corporate work. As her book's popularity blew up and she began doing a robust amount of media interviews, ultimately, she could no longer hide it. What ended up happening when people found out though, was the opposite of what she had feared; her new accomplishment was extremely impressive to many people and made her more synonymous with being outspoken, creative, and downright more interesting, all of which ultimately helped her career. So if you're accomplishing a lot with your side hustles, don't hide them because they may just help boost your corporate persona.

Creating an environment for true selves is the key to authenticity, and it starts at the top.  Leaders who are forthright about their own feelings give others permission to do the same. This has never been more important than now, where a lot of managers and executives are relinquishing the notion of a flawless and unfeeling leader as an outdated archetype.  Instead, today's leaders are feeling free to be honest and vulnerable around their staff, which gives those who report to them the license to do the same. This level of transparency is what truly allows corporate atmospheres to blossom into authentic communities.