Bob’s Red Mill Uses an Employee Stock Ownership Plan to Put People Before Profit

Bob Moore gave employees ownership of Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods through an employee stock ownership plan, which means employees are in charge of the future of the company as well as their own retirement benefits.

  • People Before Profit
    "People Before Profit" by Ken Koopman is the true story of Bob Moore's gift of Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods Company to his employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. Now, because of his generosity, Bob's Red Mill employees are in charge of the company's fate as they move forward and grow.
  • Grains
    Bob Moore says about his decision, "Most business people I have known over the years have had one goal, and that is to get out of the business they are in. My advice to them is, ‘For Heaven’s sake, do not let go of your job! Keep it.’ That’s what I have done. I have worked to keep the business I love.”

  • People Before Profit
  • Grains

People Before Profit: The Inspiring Story of the Founder of Bob’s Red Mill (Inkwater Press, 2012) by Ken Koopman may sound like a modern fairytale, but it actually is the true account of a successful businessman who gave his business to his employees — not for some tax advantage or a public-relations ploy, but because he felt it was the right thing to do. 

Though Bob Moore, owner of Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, made the remarkable presentation via an Employee Stock Ownership Plan on the occasion of his 81st birthday, he didn’t do it as a means to step away from the company he had created so he could ease into a comfortable retirement. He’s still at work, as of the book’s release in spring 2012, still providing day-to-day leadership of the company.  

This book is written by Moore’s “P.R. guy,” but it doesn’t read like an extended press release. As the daily news becomes an apparently endless parade of corporate greed and avaricious CEOs, Bob Moore’s story opens a window into practically a parallel universe of business practices: putting people before profit, and giving due appreciation to the people who’ve made your company strong. The sad thing about the book is that Moore shouldn’t be such a rare bird: He should have a lot more company. But it is to be hoped that his example will inspire in others some of his unselfishness and sense of connection with the people who make it possible for businessmen to be in business. This excerpt is taken from Chapter 28, “An Employee-Owned Company.” 

Bob Moore runs a business, but treats everybody like family. People like Wes Tarr and his three partners are his brothers. His kids are Dave Geiter and Dean Hauck — and a handful of others like Bo Thomas, Micky Torgerson, Dianna Kelley, and Lori Sobelson, who have been with him almost since the beginning. And then he has a wealth of grandkids — the 250 employees he values so much. Even his relationships outside the walls of the world headquarters are familial, closer than some cousins. There’s Don Ossey, his real estate expert; John McCormick, his attorney; and Ken, Craig, and Ted, his PR and advertising guys.

And, he knew in his heart — probably around the time of the fire — his people were so important to him he would never jeopardize their future by “selling out,” or alter his relationship with them by letting someone other than himself have the majority interest in Bob’s Red Mill. That heart-felt feeling, that emotional commitment, manifested itself in the rejection of hundreds of offers over the years to buy his company. He could have retired a very rich man if he had entertained any of those propositions. But all that the wooing, cajoling, and flattering accomplished over the years was a steeling of his resolve. Whereas before, maybe up until the time he reached “retirement age,” he had a strong feeling about what he ultimately wanted to do with the company, at some point he crossed a line of no return in his mind, and decided, with clarity and purpose, that his employees would have the company. At first, when he and Charlee jointly made the decision, he didn’t know how that would happen. He just knew it would happen. As he was later quoted as saying, “Truly, this was the only business decision I could personally make.”

An Employee Stock Ownership Plan

Planning for that eventuality began in his late 70s, shortly after he had secured his employees’ job futures with the long-term lease on the new manufacturing facility. Next, he wanted to secure their financial futures. The first step was to approach his partners — Dennis Gilliam, John Wagner, and Robert Agnew — and discuss with them his goal to have the employees own the company. The succession plan sounded good to Gilliam, 65; Wagner, 67; and Agnew, 46, at the time. So, with the help of their attorney, John McCormick, of the Portland law firm, Sussman Shank LLP, the group began exploring their options. They learned employee ownership could be accomplished in a number of ways: Employees can receive stock options or buy stock directly; they can be given stock as a bonus; they can obtain stock through a profit-sharing plan; they can even become owners through worker cooperatives, where everyone has an equal vote. But, after months of research, they found the most attractive option for the company, its owners, and employees, was an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

5/2/2012 11:03:56 AM

"People Before Profit" only works as long as there is profit. Even under the faceless corporate system workers have profit sharing and stock options. Anybody can buy shares in the company they work for. The problems come as personal interaction declines with growing size of the company....A plan like this requires a stable work force of responsible workers to be successful. It can't have votes among the shareholders to decide important things, only to have workers leave and not share in the consequences of their votes......Karl Marx predicted the failure of communism (a point often ignored by Communists.) He knew that human nature would always see a smaller group of stronger members grow to have more influence in decision making, and the strongest member of that group would become the leader. Then you'd be right back to where you started.

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