Raising the Bar

Raising the Bar

My passion for the outdoors means that I’ve eaten a lot of Clif Bars in my days. Clif Bar Inc. has always struck me as a company similar to Ben & Jerry’s or Patagonia – one that cares about the environment, their product, and social causes. They’re all feel-good companies run by ex-hippies who somehow launched a successful business. Although I’ve read about Ben & Jerry’s before, Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business was the first I’ve ever read about Clif Bar the company. Gary Erickson, founder and CEO, authored the book with Lois Lorentzen.

I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this book. The story and writing were so engaging that I took it to work with me to read during my lunch breaks. My lunch chapter was often the bright spot of my day.

Gary Erickson is an avid outdoor adventurer, and writes several extended analogies comparing his trips to Clif Bar’s business. I’ve included one such analogy which made me think quite a bit. You can also read the publisher’s excerpt of Chapter 1.

“On the second night of that first adventure with Jay our goal was the village of Gstaad [Switzerland], home to a famous tennis tournament. But when we rode in, Gstaad seemed too touristy for our tastes. We continued riding until we reached a gorgeous high alpine village dotted with small chalets. We decided that we wanted to stay in this delightful village, but we quickly discovered that the town had no hotels. We asked a man if he knew of anyone with rooms to rent. He checked for us and returned with bad news – no rooms in town. As the day darkened, we sat on a bench and consumed a makeshift picnic dinner, figuring we would return to Gstaad. A few minutes later, the man returned and said, “You are welcome to stay in my home as guests. I am sorry that the room is in the basement. You won’t have to pay.” The room turned out to be nicer than any three-star hotel, with a television, hot shower, and lots of space. To us it was luxurious indeed. We watched the Tour de France as Greg Lemond took the yellow jersey and later became the first American to win the Tour. Our host then treated us to a four-course meal including raclette (a traditional Swiss cheese dish), wine, vegetables, various meats, dessert, and kirsch. We couldn’t believe our good fortune. The following morning our new friend served us breakfast and hugged us good-bye.

I believe this kind of generosity happens when you place yourself in a vulnerable position. We were vulnerable on this trip. We weren’t on a planned tour. We weren’t in a car. Large panniers didn’t carry all the gear that would have allowed us to camp anywhere. Clif Bar Inc. made itself vulnerable by staying private. I think people appreciate Clif’s vulnerability and that’s why they help us on our journey. People find the best flavors and finest ingredients for us. Others go out of their way to secure the best packaging deals possible. Consumers send us information on sustainability. They know we are not a large entity just trying to make money. Numerous outsiders, similar to our friend in the Swiss village, have helped Clif during vulnerable periods.”

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