Last week on World AIDS Day, Bob Haas, chairman emeritus, former CEO of LS&Co., former president of the Levi Strauss Foundation, and one of the first LS&Co. employees on the front lines of fighting HIV/AIDS, received the National Leadership Recognition Award from the National AIDS Memorial Grove for his pioneering leadership in addressing HIV/AIDS in the workplace.
Bob’s heartfelt acceptance remarks struck a chord among attendees at the organization’s 22nd annual World AIDS Day observance as he recalled the early years of the epidemic. It was a time marked by fear and misunderstanding, and defined as much by the words spoken as by those left unsaid.
“Most of us didn’t tell the full stories of lost loved ones,” he said. “We were silent about how people died. But over time, we came to understand that keeping quiet about AIDS was part of the problem. And so we began to break the silence. People began to share stories of their friends, partners, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons living with AIDS. And people with AIDS began telling their own powerful stories.”
It was their courage and wisdom, he said, combined with the efforts of pioneers fighting the disease through advocacy, policy change, research and direct services that laid the groundwork for future social change.
Bob was among those courageous advocates. Following the World AIDS Day observance, our employees were honored to have the opportunity to hear from Bob at our San Francisco headquarters in a talk introduced by LS&Co. Chief Counsel Seth Jaffe (right) and led by Levi Strauss Foundation Executive Director Daniel Lee (left).
During the inspiring talk, Bob described his first memories of the company and why he chose to work here (his great-grandfather, grandfather, father and uncle all worked at LS&Co.), what it was like to be in San Francisco in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the importance of working for a values-driven company.
“I never thought of business as providing an opportunity to do social good,” he said. “I thought that the business of business is business, and that the job of a CEO is, as Milton Friedman would say, to maximize the bottom line. But I learned that working at Levi’s can be a platform for expressing your personal values in the workplace and the community.”
Bob’s legacy of doing the right thing in the face of adversity continues today at LS&Co. A few members of our AIDS Action Group, a team of dedicated volunteers and advocates shared what Bob’s courage means to them:
“Having been with LS&Co. for my entire career, Bob’s courage and everything he stands for has had a tremendous influence on the way I view diversity. I’ve had the benefit of growing up in a corporate culture that in great part through Bob’s influence, is open and accepting of all; regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual preference. In short, Bob has inspired and taught me to be a better person.” —Barb Gollert, Vice President, Global Merchandising and Design, Planning and Operations
“Bob’s unwavering commitment to fighting the good fight against AIDS/HIV had definitely kept my hope alive during the many hard years we have all been battling this disease. His unstinting & highly visible support often rekindled my spirit in moments of despair, giving me the strength to rally and keep going to try to make a difference.” —Maurice Kelly, New Accounts Manager
“Bob’s courage inspires me every day. He is the voice in my head that says “What more can we do? and “How can we help?” When needle exchange was new and VERY controversial, Bob knew it saved lives and he encouraged immediate action for our involvement. He models integrity and generosity, and I am honored to represent his values in the community. “ —Shawn Rossiter, Senior Specialist, Risk Mitigation
“Over the past 25 years, Bob has inspired me to be more, do more, and give more. There is a saying that one will not always remember what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel. Well, Bob made me feel special and valued and I will never forget that!” — Patricia Owyang, Senior Sales Manager
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Photo credit: National AIDS Memorial Grove