“I’m about to become a very rich man,” thought Gary Erickson, the founder and co-CEO of Clif Bar & Company, in the moment before he had to decide whether to sell his company to Quaker Oats.
At the time of the $120 million offer, Clif Bar was a regular on Forbes Magazine’s annual list of the 500 fastest growing companies. Under pressure to sell as other energy bar companies were being absorbed by bigger brands, Erickson initially agreed to the deal.
Uncomfortable with his decision, Erickson remembered a 1986 biking trip he took in the Alps. “I could either take the ‘red roads,’ which were ugly highways, and get to my destination quicker, or take the ‘white roads,’ which were rustic, scenic paths,” Erickson said. “In the end, I chose the white roads and saw some of the most beautiful sights on earth.”
So he decided not to sell. “We could have put Clif Bar on the red road, but I didn’t want to,” Erickson said. “Everyone thought I was crazy. And I really was.”
Clif Bar & Company emerged with a focus on innovation and has since launched 12 new product lines. Employees have logged over 40,000 hours of community service on company time, and are paid to work out in the company gym.
“Twelve years ago, people said, ‘But you could have done so many things with that money.’ But we can do so much more with the power of our company, our brands, our people,” Erickson said.
In hindsight, Erickson said, keeping his company private made him happy and he encouraged his listeners to follow suit.
“I didn’t start the journey to end the journey. I started the journey to stay on the journey. So if you ever find yourself being drawn toward a red road and something doesn’t feel right, take a walk around the block. Or a hike. Or a long bike ride.”