Clif Bar’s Journey in Inspiring Tomorrow’s Business Leaders
By Tiffany Tran, Student Lead of the Sustainable Food Initiative & MBA ’20 Candidate
On September 13th, 2018, the Center for Responsible Business (CRB) at Haas, the Berkeley Food Institute, the Net Impact Berkeley Undergraduate Chapter, and Clif Bar co-hosted a Peterson Speaker Series titled, Inspiring Tomorrow’s Business Leaders. Faculty Director of the CRB’s Sustainable Food Initiative, Will Rosenzweig, was joined by Clif Bar co-owners, Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, for a discussion on what it means to run a profitable company that strives to create a healthier, more sustainable world.
The discussion kicked off with Gary diving deep into the founding of Clif Bar. In 1990, Gary ventured on a 175-mile bike ride and grew tired of eating the energy bars that he brought along. Unable to take another bite, he had an idea to make a better tasting energy bar. Gary calls this moment “the epiphany moment,” when the idea of Clif Bar was born. Rosenzweig described how many entrepreneurs experience a similar type of epiphany moment and gain a “visceral understanding of an unmet need.” It is this realization that sparks the desire for many entrepreneurs to pursue a new business idea.
Over 25 years after its founding, Clif Bar stands not only as an iconic, successful company but also as a company known to do the right thing. Wanting to ensure that the company always stood by its values, Gary and Kit invented a new business model with five underlying aspirations focused on sustaining the business, its brands, its people, the community, and the planet. With people, planet, and communities in mind, Clif Bar ensures that any material business decision made falls under the lens of these five bottom lines.
Kit shared an example of when the five aspirations were put to the test. A new product innovation required sourcing an ingredient from an endangered forest. Despite all the work that went into the project, the team realized that they could not proceed with sourcing an ingredient that would detrimentally impact the environment. Gary described how all of Clif Bar’s aspiration are interdependent. If Clif Bar compromised the planet aspiration, then the people and community aspirations would also be affected. Though it is not an easy task, Kit mentioned that “day by day we are making sure that we are stewards of those five aspirations.”
Clif Bar continues to demonstrate that businesses can focus on profits while positively impacting the world. For example, organic research to date receives less than 1% of funding for agricultural research. Recognizing the lack of funding, Clif Bar invested $10 million to fund five endowed chairs focused on organic agricultural research. In addition, Gary and Kit recently launched a new academic scholarship program called the Business with Purpose Scholarship. The scholarship is designed to financially support graduating college seniors who want to pursue a purpose-driven career. With this award, Clif Bar hopes to inspire tomorrow’s business leaders to believe that it is possible to be successful while also staying focused on a greater sense of purpose.
Though Clif Bar may sound perfect, Gary and Kit admitted that there are several challenges that the company faces. Finding a viable sustainable packaging option is an example of one of them. The continuing efforts that Clif Bar has made in creating a healthier, more sustainable world are a testament to the company’s values and true desire to positively impact the world. It is heartening to see such a successful company redefining business and influencing other companies and future business leaders to do the same.
Watch the Inspiring Tomorrow’s Business Leaders Peterson Speaker Series on the CRB’s Youtube channel here.
About the Author
Tiffany is passionate about driving positive environmental impact. She most recently worked at Annie’s, a natural and organic food company. She led Annie’s packaging strategy, spearheaded annual reporting, and collaborated with the Marketing team to tell the story of the company’s sustainability commitments and products. Prior to Annie’s, Tiffany worked on environmental policy initiatives at the Walt Disney Company and focused her time on educating the global supply chain on environmental topics. Tiffany is thrilled to join the student advisory board and is most excited by the opportunity to educate her classmates on the intersection of business and sustainability. With her background, she hopes to strengthen the CRB’s sustainable food and sustainable amount chain focus areas by sharing her experiences and working on initiatives in these areas.