Happy employees, happy customers: Clif Bar CEO

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“We see our brand promise as something constantly nurtured over time as a result of having created a different kind of work environment where employees are truly engaged and really want to be,” says Kevin Cleary, CEO of Clif Bar and Company. “If our people are happy, customers are happy.”

Cleary’s remarks came during his keynote address at the Impact Marin Conference on Thursday at the Embassy Suites in San Rafael. It was sponsored by the North Bay Business Journal and attended by more than 150 business leaders.

His remarks focused on the Emeryville-based company’s success at maintaining its brand position, which has also led to strong identification with that brand from employees.

“I’ve seen surveys that show 70 percent of most workers are not engaged in their work. We polled our employees and 90 percent said they personally identify with Clif Bar and support our brand values. This gives us a competitive advantage in hiring and retention.

“We want the best from our people, but I don’t believe work-life balance is the solution. It is really about work-life integration, offering employees flex-work schedules, putting more time back into people’s pockets, and by staying connected with what is important to them. We don’t just talk about our brand, we live it every day.”

This list of on-site perks that help employees save time includes having a barber and chiropractor come to Clif Bar, offering them 2.5 hours per week to work out at the company gym, cycling to work and hosting Friday morning bike rides for everyone from 9 to 11 a.m. The company also emphasizes making a difference in the community.

“We incent everyone to contribute 20 hours a year, as a minimum, to donate their time to charities. Our 400 employees gave a total of 15,000 hours to benefit nonprofits in 2016. Some work in community gardens while others help distribute food to those in need. For me, it means leaving the office at 3:15 p.m. one day a week to attend Little League practice. We encourage our people to make this happen.”

A strong brand, and a solid, engaged work force, has combined with an early focus on organic ingredients to produce long-term success.

“We have used organic ingredients in our products since 2002, when not too many people were going organic. This cost us a couple of margin points at first, but resulted in Clif Bar having a 32 percent market share in 2016, while market share among our competitors Balance Bar and Power Bar has declined to 3 percent each. Back in 2000, when we made a decision to stay private, we had a 15 percent share and Balance Bar had 19 percent and Power Bar was at 32 percent.”

Clif Bar opened a $90 million, 300,000 square foot one-of-a-kind, sustainability-focused bakery in Twin Falls, Idaho, last August and kept it employee-focused approach in its design. The building features 200 windows, vaulted skylights, light-directing solatubes, indoor walls of recycled barnwood, natural stone accented by numerous live plants. Outside, there are 5,700 drought-tolerant native shrubs and grasses along with 570 trees around patio break areas as well as future plans for a biking/footpath and organic community garden.

The company Café-Teria has floor to ceiling windows. An enclosed packaging area has projectors showing scenes of nature on its walls. There is also an on-site gym everyone can use throughout the day. This building is a candidate for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver or Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“Some 15 percent of workers on average voluntarily turnover each year at other firms. Clif Bar has only seen three workers leave voluntarily. Having a highly desirable work environment has also made our people more productive.”

Cleary said Clif Bar’s mission from the start has been to “run a different kind of company, the kind of place we’d want to work, that makes the kind of food we’d like to eat, and that strives for a healthier, more sustainable world – the kind of world we’d like to pass on to our children,” quoting the company’s owner and Co-Chief Visionary Officer Kit Crawford.

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