Congrats, Clif Bar! Its Sale To Mondelez Boosts Our View That This Is ‘The ESOP Decade’

Food & Drink

My heartiest and heartfelt congratulations to Clif Bar & Company and its employees on their landmark agreement to sell to Mondelēz International! The natural energy, nutrition and snack bar maker – 20% owned by its employees – sold itself for $2.9 billion, with additional earnout possibilities.

Clif Bar and Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, its husband-and-wife owners and co-Chief Visionary Officers, have been our friends for over a dozen years. I was privileged to work with Clif Bar when they established a 20% ESOP plan in Spring 2010 through the sale of family-owned common stock and have maintained ties ever since.

The expected acquisition of Clif Bar and other major employee-ownership developments convince me that my assertion over a year ago is materializing that this this will be “The Decade of the ESOP.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, we have seen a rise in employee ownership. This has been buoyed by PE firms, led by global investment giant KKR & CO, and Long Point Capital, among others, using a broad-based employee engagement model that, for KKR in particular, seeks to make every worker in a U.S. manufacturer it acquires a participant in the success of the company they work for.

We’re seeing a growing number of states establishing state ESOP centers to help family-owned and other companies secure the benefits of employee-ownership. And last December, after Congress acted to make 100% ESOPs eligible for sole-source follow-on government contracts, President Biden signed into law the first-ever government contracting program to specifically encourage ESOPs. The law also dedicates funds to improve education about employee ownership. (That Jared Bernstein, a long-time advocate for employee ownership, is now a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisors likely helped enact this landmark legislation.)

As for Clif Bar, when it announced the ESOP program, Kit explained that Gary and she “wanted to create a company where we would want to work. She added, “Employee ownership is one more way we could run a different kind of business: one that inspires a team of people to make the kind of delicious, nutritious food we’d like to eat, and that strives for a healthier, more sustainable world.”

Cliff Bar’s culture, values and a foundation of five distinct aspirations underscore how important Clif Bar places employee ownership and participation. Its aspirations – involving People, Planet, Community, Business and Brand – are convincingly explained and illuminated in the company’s 2020 annual report, Let’s Move the World, that will excite any viewer.

We are excited for Clif Bar’s employee owners (whose original 20% ownership suggests a $580 million “reward” from the Mondelez purchase) and we will be eagerly watching them write their next chapter on a global platform.

As I’ve asserted before, employee ownership offers a “win-win-win.” You get the culture and engagement – and you get the thoughts and ideas from people who are on the line and working. With these special ingredients you realize outcomes previously unimaginable.

Bravo, Clif Bar! And congratulations Mondelez on securing another iconic brand.

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