This time for Fond of Work, we spoke to Scott White, who is Levi Strauss & Co’s Vice President and Global Head of People Operations and Rewards.
Scott leads LS&Co.’s global compensation, benefits, mobility, recognition, HR technology, HR analytics and HR operations to support the company’s four brands and over 17,000 employees in 40+ countries throughout the world. His role drives HR and total rewards strategy design and execution to align with LS&Co.’s business growth and represent their strong cultural and societal values.
Before joining Levi’s, Scott worked for Panera Bread as VP, HR Total Rewards and Shared Services. Prior to Panera he was SVP, Total Rewards at 24 Hour Fitness; VP HR at Applebee’s International; VP Client, Development and Managing Principal; and National Director, Reward Design and Central Region Reward Practice Leader at Hay Group.
Scott has a master’s degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology from Tulane University and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Washburn University. When not at Levi’s, Scott enjoys spending time with his family in Dublin, California.
How did you first get into the HR space?
I got into HR when I was an undergrad in school. I was studying psychology and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. My dad always wanted me to go into business, and I had a professor that talked about how psychology and business interact. She told me about the field of Industrial Psychology, which I had never heard of, and she even landed me an internship with a small firm where I was going to college that did applied psychology from a marketing perspective. They helped companies with site selection, polling, research, and more. It was a great experience and it convinced me to go to grad school for Industrial Psychology. After that, I went into consulting and came over to corporate roles like this.
How did you end up at global retailer, Levi Strauss?
I was working at Panera, which has headquarters located in St. Louis and Boston. However, I live in the Bay Area and had just gotten married. I truly underestimated how hard it would be to travel so often, away from my wife. My wife is from California and we’re really happy in the Bay Area, so I started looking for a place that has the values of Panera. I wanted to work for an industry leader like Panera closer to home that could encourage career growth. I looked at a lot of things that came up and I had a hard time finding a place that was truly a market leader and also had the values I cared about. Levi Strauss called, and to me, it was the perfect fit.
Working at Levi Strauss has been a great opportunity for me to experience new things in my career. We’re a global company, which was something I hadn’t experienced previously. Every HR initiative we roll out seems simple until you do it in 40 countries at 15 languages, and then it becomes much more complicated and involved. It’s a great opportunity to grow. And then there are HR complications with being vertically integrated in the apparel industry.
Do you have a management philosophy you apply to your day-to-day work?
Hire people that are better than you.
Any particular thing you’re doing to apply that philosophy?
When you hire a person in my role, a lot of the times it’s a “rebuilding” type of situation. If you don’t have the right people in the right places or enough people on your team, things can go downhill fast.
When you get to the point where you have good leaders, proactive team members, and the right type of talent and functional expertise, it’s a blessing. It makes my job so much better. I know that when I have people who can manage things in their own spaces, I can truly lead my team.
How do you reward and recognize your employees at work?
We certainly want to be a competitive paying company for compensation and benefits. We operate in some very tough markets where it’s difficult to retain talent, so you have to be competitive. Beyond that, to get the very best people, it’s not just money. For us, it’s ways of working, the right values, and a passion for what we do as a company. As long as we continue to evolve those things, I think we’ll continue to engage our employees to maintain competitive with hiring.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received throughout your career?
One thing I’ve learned the hard way is to know when to have the hard conversations. Early on in my career, I was a consultant and I learned quickly that you should have an optimistic, yet realistic evaluation of a situation right up front. I think being overly optimistic would have been my bias early on (there’s some naivety to it); it’s a practical optimism that’s been the biggest learning.
Any advice for future HR leaders?
I think of my son. He’s 19 and in college and trying to figure out what to do with his life. You cannot pick the destination. You can point yourself in the right direction, and if you stay on your path and make good decisions, good things will probably happen. Maybe you’ll surpass where you thought you would get. What will be will be, and you’ll be happy if you do that.
Thanks so much to Scott for taking the time to speak with us. Stay tuned for the next interview in the Fond of Work series, coming soon! By the way, Levi’s is hiring, so check out their website to view their open positions.
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