In 2000, eight years after the founding of the company, Clif Bar was offered $120m to sell to a major food conglomerate. A sale would have set up the founding team for life. But they walked away from it. Why did they turn down such an offer?
Well, while most companies focus on one bottom line, Clif Bar focuses on five bottom lines, or “aspirations,” as they call them:
Sustaining our Business, Brands, People, Community and the Planet. These aspirations help us consider decisions from multiple perspectives that we value, and we choose the word “aspiration” in recognition that we’re on a journey and can always do more in each of these areas. – Clif Bar
It was the evaluation of the five bottom lines that made founders Kit Crawford and Gary Erickson realize that the proceeds from a sale would certainly provide a cash windfall, but they wouldn’t guarantee their ability to impact each important group of stakeholders, as was their purpose.
It was a big decision, a risky decision, but a decision that has paid off many times over. Clif Bar today commands 35 percent of the energy food market, has revenues five times what they were in 2000 and has experienced 17 percent year on year growth ever since.
I recently listened to an interview with Kevin Cleary, the CEO of Clif Bar, who took the helm two years ago. When asked the secret of their success, he cited a singularity of purpose as being responsible for creating the internal alignment necessary for their growth from a good food company to a great company doing good. He repeatedly emphasized how important it was for the company, and indeed every company, to have a purpose that matters, bigger than products and bigger than the people who founded the company.
What does this mean for the company from an operational standpoint? Clif Bar is regularly voted one of the top places to work in America, a nod that ensures they have no problem recruiting the best talent in the country. Their community outreach programs have impacted the communities they do business in, earning trust and respect. And rather than spend large sums on marketing campaigns and advertising, Clif Bar has a greater reach through its grass-roots programs that target athletes at their point of passion rather than through expensive marketing efforts.
It is the balance of all five aspirations that has kept the company growing from strength to strength, something they certainly could not have achieved had they focused solely on profit.
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Barry Chandler is the co-founder of Storyforge, a brand strategy company focused on helping companies discover their purpose to allow them achieve their vision, build preference and drive margin. Barry has been building award-winning businesses since launching his first company in Ireland in 2003. His last company, a digital marketing agency, was acquired in 2012 by a California-based publicly traded entertainment company which then hired him as Chief Marketing Officer. It is his belief that the greatest brands seek to change the world, improving the lives of their associates, partners and customers.