Since founding his energy-bar company after a 175-mile bicycle ride, Gary Erickson has fiercely prioritized the freedom of the cliff bar for 30 years. till this week.
The company announced Monday that Mondelez International will acquire Clif Bar in a deal that will amount to at least $2.9 billion.
It’s shocking news from a business that has turned down so many acquisition offers in its lifetime that Eriksson told me in 2018 that it had not only lost track, but was objectively unaware of how many there were. (His employees were instructed not to message him from potential buyers.)
Earlier in the company’s history, he put himself and the entire company in huge debt to avoid a takeover. By 1998, Cliff Bar – named after Erikson’s father, Clifford – was growing so fast that it ranked number 152 on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in America, but by 2000, his business partner Lisa Thomas decided she wanted to leave the company – and would feature a well-off takeover. On the verge of signing a $120 million deal, Eriksson found himself running out of debt, falling into $60 million.
After taking what he called the “gamble of the century”, Erikson led Cliff Bar to become one of the nation’s leading purpose-driven businesses, dedicated not to a bottom line, but to the five pillars of success. Including maintaining people, community. Planets, brands and businesses. He attempted to create green production facilities, pay employees well in salaries and benefits – and even made him the owner of the company in 2010, adopting an employee stock ownership plan that pays annual dividends.
Erikson and his wife and business partner, Kit Crawford, owned 80 percent of Cliff Bar as of a few years ago. Despite being handed over their co-CEO titles in 2013, the pair have been actively involved in every major company decision. As for the board of directors? He single-handedly made the board.
“Gary and I have always been very certain about our feelings, and our passion, and our love for the company. We wanted to be the main decision makers at all times,” Crawford told me in 2018. “I think she’s saying we’re the control freaks,” Erikson joked.
Now they are giving up some of that control for good. But they may not be abandoning the “five aspirations” that guide it. In fact, in one Acquisition announcement releasedSally Grimes, CEO of Clif Bar since mid-2020, said: “Our objectives and cultures align and being part of a global snacking company with a wide range of product offerings can help us accelerate our growth, while keeping our Lives up to the Deep Five aspirations–sustaining our people, planet, community, business and brands.” Certainly, the “people” portion of it – the employees who make up 20 percent of the company – would benefit greatly.
Crawford, Eriksson and Grimes made the decision to not only possibly have more than 1,200 employees, but also to continue developing the brand. “Business” and “Community” are also focused on acquisitions. International snack brand Mondelez – which owns the Oreo, Ritz and Honey Made brands, among many others – can use its distribution prowess to expand internationally and within the US plus, the communities in which Clif Bar is built. Yes, they won’t be able to lose. Mondelez said in its release on the acquisition that it will continue to operate the business from its current headquarters in Emeryville, Calif., and green-manufacturing facilities in Idaho and Indiana.
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