TWIN FALLS, IDAHO — For Clif Bar & Co. founder Gary Erickson, it was never really about the money. That became glaringly obvious when he stood to make $60 million from the sale of his company back in April 2000 — and instead walked away from the deal, only to spend $65 million putting himself and his business into serious debt for the sake of retaining 100% ownership.

No, it wasn’t about the money. It was about why he developed the Clif Bar in the first place and establishing a new way of looking at business, food production and the bottom line.

As a competitive cyclist, Mr. Erickson understood the strategy of the “breakaway” in a race. Sixteen years later, Clif Bar is breaking away from the old school way of food production and bakery design to bring people, planet and product together in the design of its $90 million bakery in Twin Falls, Idaho. It’s an operation that’s not only an extension of Clif Bar’s corporate values but also a continuing pursuit of excellence that is the business of Mr. Erickson’s and his wife, Kit Crawford’s, dreams.

Clif Bar founders Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford
Clif Bar & Co. founder Gary Erickson and his wife, Kit Crawford

A different kind of company

Clif Bar considers itself a “five bottom line” company, meaning it gauges performance not by profitability alone. Instead, it measures success based on sustaining the business, brands, people, community and planet. These are Clif Bar’s five “aspirations,” and they permeate every facet of the organization.

Jen Freitas, Clif Bar & Co.
Jen Freitas, director of people, learning and engagement for Clif Bar

“All of the aspirations are weighted equally,” said Jen Freitas, director of people, learning and engagement. “We set goals and strategies across our aspirations, so when we look at our quarterly or annual results, we’re always looking at our performance across all five of them.”

Every decision — from top-line to the production floor — is considered by looking through the lens of the five.

At first glance, one might balk at a business model that puts planet and profit on equal footing. But in the Clif Bar culture, that’s the standard and, in many ways, what has led to the success it enjoys today. In 2003, the company made a decision to go organic, a big risk at the time, considering the debt the company faced after the near-sale. But it was the right thing to do for people and the planet.

Ironically, Clif Bar couldn’t have predicted just how big the organic movement was going to be.

Kate Torgersen, Clif Bar & Co.
Kate Torgersen, senior communications manager for Clif Bar

“While organic was just starting to catch on, the decision to transition to organic ingredients wasn’t strategic — we did it because it was the right thing to do, and it was the single biggest action we could take to reduce our impact on the planet,” said Kate Torgersen, senior communications manager. “It’s almost a happy coincidence that 13 years later there’s a new generation of people who care so deeply about this commitment.”

Call it a case study in how internal values can become externally successful. Call it the new corporate paradigm. Clif Bar calls it taking the “White Road,” where the journey has as much — if not more — value as the destination.