Clif Bars may be ubiquitous across America, but despite the company’s size, it remains privately held — by the man who created the first Clif Bar in 1990, along with his wife.
But in 2013, Clif Bar & Company owners, husband-and-wife team Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, decided to hand over the CEO reins to Kevin Cleary, who had been with the company since 2004.
Under Cleary, the company has seen significant growth. Clif Bar would not disclose sales, but Cleary told the San Francisco Business Times last year that the company has a third of the health bar market — estimated to grow to $US6.2 billion next year — and the owners confirmed that Clif Bar has had an 18% compounded growth rate over the past 10 years, has been profitable since year three, and now has a total of about 1,100 employees across the country.
Erickson and Crawford told Business Insider that they consider Cleary an ideal manager, joking that they shouldn’t sing his praises, since another company might try to swoop in and steal him. They explained why.
He is direct and honest.
Despite having a warm, communal atmosphere at their Emeryville, California headquarters, Erickson and Crawford don’t want social niceties to lead to whitewashing hard truths. They said Cleary is “honest as the day is long” and gets to the point.
“There’s no reason to spin a story,” Erickson said. “Just give us the facts.”
He makes a point of knowing his employees on a personal level.
Even though there are more than 400 employees in the Emeryville office and a total of around 1,100 employees across the country, Erickson and Crawford said they are always impressed by the way Cleary is able to seemingly remember each one he meets.
Part of the way he remembers everyone is by calling them sometimes goofy nicknames he makes up on the spot (like “Dream” for a publicist named Dean) — for them, it’s an endearing part of his personality.
He has a great sense of humour.
Cleary doesn’t take himself too seriously and is ready to brighten the mood in a room. His sense of humour is known across the company. “That goes a long way in business,” Crawford said.
He’s in control of his emotions.
Erickson said Cleary does not lose control of his emotions, regardless of the challenges he’s up against. And it trickles down to his employees.
He “leads with that kind of calmness,” Erickson said. “Because we’ve gone through many bumps since he’s been here. There’s always something.”
He lives the brand.
In many ways Cleary is the ideal Clif Bar customer — an avid outdoor athlete — and that’s why he’s the ideal person to run the company.
“I took him and our CFO on a 12-day ride through the Alps, from northern Italy all the way down to southern France — mostly climbing and bad weather — and we got rained on and snowed on and everything,” Erickson said. “And he was so much fun.”
“And you know, when someone can go through an adventure like that …” Erickson said, trailing off his words. The trip, which came shortly before Erickson and Crawford decided to give him the job, convinced them he was ready.
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