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Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business – The Story of Clif Bar Inc.





Book: 'Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business – The Story of Clif Bar Inc'.

Author: Gary Erickson with Lois Lorentzen

Publisher: Jossey-Bass, 2004

ISBN: 0-7879-7365-3

Leader Values

Imagine this scenario: You start a small company to market sports food bars. Eight years later your company is thriving, with multimillion dollar annual sales. Then a large corporation offers to buy your company for US$120 million. What would you do? For most people there would be no decision. They would take the money and live comfortably for the rest of their life. Not Gary Erickson. In 2000 he almost agreed to sell Clif Bar Inc. But then he listened to his inner voice and realised that there is more to life than having a large bank balance. Raising the Bar explains why he decided not to sell his company.

If you owned a bookstore, you might have some difficulty deciding where to put Raising the Bar. Should it go with the mainstream business books; or with books on entrepreneurship; or with leadership books, or maybe with autobiographies? You could even put it with the sports books. After all, the cover photo shows a cyclist carrying his bike up a steep mountain side and whole chapters are devoted to cycling and mountain climbing.

These questions of classification arise because Raising the Bar is not a conventional business book or a case study. It is more like a complete “How to live life to the fullest” instruction manual. Co-written with long term friend and social ethics professor Lois Lorentzen, Erickson’s book is a cross between a personal diary, a sports adventure book and an inspirational business book.

As the subtitle suggests, Erickson believes that you have to approach life and business with passion and integrity. Like many entrepreneurs, he is comfortable about taking risks in his sporting activities. And he easily re-applies lessons from these adventures into his business life. Mishaps and unexpected pluses encountered while cycling in the Swiss mountains become the basis for handling risks and creating opportunities in his business.

Clif Bar Inc. is following a very unusual business model. Erickson says, “I love all aspects of our business: the ideas, planning, opportunities to do good in the world, creating products, working with great people”. So he rejects the conventional wisdom that getting a worthwhile return on investment simply means maximising shareholder value. Instead, he sees return on investment in terms of achieving his five aspirations: “sustaining our brands, our business, our people, our community, and our planet”. Does that sound like a hopelessly unrealistic set of goals in the modern, hard-nosed business world? Maybe, but Raising the Bar shows that he is getting there.

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