Global CMO, Levi Strauss & Co
You often don’t know how important these lessons are until you go out into the world and start using them.
In June, Kenny Mitchell D’97, T’04 was named CMO of Levi Strauss, an exciting new challenge for a marketing leader who has managed several esteemed brands—from PepsiCo to Nascar to McDonald’s, and most recently, Snapchat.
Fittingly, one of Mitchell’s most vivid childhood memories recalls the break-dancing crew he formed with his brother and a few friends in their neighborhood. The staples of their outfit during talent shows and performances were a pair of Levi’s and Adidas shell-toe shoes—a look popularized by the hip-hop group Run-D.M.C. He never could have imagined that one day he would be the chief marketer responsible for growing the Levi’s brand globally.
I have several pairs of Levi’s in my wardrobe and so does my daughter who is 16 years old, says Mitchell.
It’s a brand that I’ve admired for the longest time and that has remained culturally relevant.
Having spent much of his career seeking to understand and connect with millennial and Gen Z consumers—most recently with Snapchat, but also at Gatorade and McDonald’s—Mitchell looks forward to helping Levi’s stay at the forefront of popular culture while remaining authentic to its business and its heritage.
An uncompromising focus on the consumer experience is something Mitchell says has guided the company since its founding in 1853.
Levi’s is a consumer-obsessed business, says Mitchell.
You see that in everything from product design and development to the in-store experience to its storytelling and marketing strategy. I’m excited to advance those efforts and continue building the legacy.
Mitchell is uniquely qualified to help write the next chapter for Levi Strauss. During his four-year tenure at Snapchat, the company more than doubled the size of its user base—and more than tripled its revenue. As he had done years earlier at Nascar, he also built and scaled a global marketing team from the ground up.
Building and leading teams has always come naturally to Mitchell, who was a recruited athlete at Dartmouth and spent four years on the men’s basketball team. He was named a team captain and during his senior season led the entire NCAA in assists. He is now a member of Wearers of the Green, Dartmouth’s athletic hall of fame. After briefly continuing his basketball career professionally, Mitchell joined his friend and classmate Drew Spencer D’97 at the digital ad agency TMP Worldwide.
[TMP Worldwide] gave me my first taste of what a career in marketing could be like, recalls Mitchell.
I’m sure it was the sociology major in me that loved the human psychology and behavioral aspects of marketing, but I also enjoyed the creativity and storytelling behind it.
He enrolled at Tuck in 2002 with the goal of moving to the client side of marketing where he could blend his burgeoning career interest with a lifelong passion for sports. The small class size, access to faculty, and familiarity with Dartmouth were all part of what sold him on a Tuck MBA.
One Tuck faculty member who had a profound influence on Mitchell is Professor of Business Administration Ella Bell Smith. He says she challenged him to be introspective and ask hard questions that ultimately helped him become more comfortable in his own skin with a clearer sense of what kind of leader he aspired to be and the way he wanted to show up for people.
You often don’t know how important these lessons are until you go out into the world and start using them, shares Mitchell.
Ella and other professors like Mary Munter and her course on management communication prepared me to re-enter the workforce with so much more confidence in my ability to present myself and communicate in an effective way.
While at Tuck, Mitchell parlayed a summer internship at PepsiCo into a full-time position where he spent the next eight years learning how a marketing-driven business operates. He spent most of that time on the company’s Gatorade business, which included managing a portfolio of marketing partnerships with professional athletes and sports leagues like the NBA and MLB. He also launched Gatorade’s action-sports platform, which led him to his next role at NBC Sports where he became vice president and general manager of the Dew Tour—a series of competitions for BMX riders, freeskiers, and skateboarders held in locations across the U.S.
Following his tenure at Nascar and before joining Snap, Inc. Mitchell also served briefly as vice president of marketing at McDonald’s, another global brand that meant a lot to him, personally.
My late father was a manager at a McDonald’s in Philadelphia, shares Mitchell.
I still have memories of him coming home and smelling like burgers and fries when I gave him a hug. I spent some of my first birthdays around Grimace and the Hamburglar, so that was a special opportunity for me.
Reflecting on where his career has taken him, Mitchell is grateful for the opportunity he had at PepsiCo early on, which he called the perfect
training ground for a young marketer looking to find his way. He says multinational consumer packaged goods (CPGs) companies such as PepsiCo and Proctor & Gamble have a long track record of developing successful business leaders. As proof, he cites Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh, who started his career at Proctor & Gamble-owned Gillette; and the current CMOs of JP Morgan Chase and McDonald’s, both of whom are friends he worked with at PepsiCo.
He entered the business world with a keen interest in sports marketing, but Mitchell ultimately learned that what matters most is working for brands he feels passionate about and that inspire culture. Shepherding a 150-year-old clothing brand that invented the blue jean certainly fits the bill.
This story originally appeared in print in the summer 2023 issue of Tuck Today magazine.
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