American Heart: Owner of Multi-Million Dollar Company Hands Over Business to Employees

Bob Moore, of Bob's Red Mill Natural Food, Shares His Secrets of Success.

February 18, 2010, 12:05 PM

Feb.18, 2010— -- Before the words "whole grain" and "organic" became part of Americans' everyday vocabulary, Bob Moore knew the importance of healthful eating.

In 1978, he started Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods, as a small family-run business in Oregon selling stone mill-ground whole grains.

The company has since grown into a multi-million dollar business that sells more than 400 whole grain products including flours, hot cereals, and organic and gluten-free products.

Moore is dedicated to making America healthier and he believes Bob's Red Mill is a small part of the solution.

"Our company needs to exist so that some of the people that eat our product will be healthier -- and I think they will be," he said.

Moore's work is a way of life and his employees are a second family, which is why he announced this week that he's handing over the keys to his 209 employees.

Moore said he's gotten countless buy-out offers over the years, but he couldn't envision selling the business to a stranger.

"It's the only business decision that I could make," he said. "I don't think there's anybody worthy to run this company but the people who built it. I have employees with me right now that have been with me for 30 years. They just were committed to staying with me now and they're going to own the company."

The company will now be run by an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) -- the idea being that a company's stock is put in a retirement plan for its employees, but the stock is never held or bought directly by individuals. When a vested employee retires, he can pull out money from the trust.

Approximately 11,000 companies now have ESOP plans, covering more than 13 million employees, according to the National Center for Employee Ownership.

If making Americans healthier is his passion, encouraging good business practices and entrepreneurship is his mandate.

"There's a lot of negative stuff going into business today," he said. "It's a good old basic Bible lesson -- love of money is the root of all evil. And unfortunately, our entire philosophy today is get all the money you can and whatever way you can. It's caused many corporations to bite off more than they can chew. And it causes people to do a lot of things just for money that they feel in their hearts is not the right thing to do."

With his own company, Moore has tried to do just the opposite. In a refreshing twist to the typical tenets of corporate America, Moore thinks of his employees and customers first and foremost.

Building a Business

Politics aside, Moore said there is no secret to building a successful business, just hard work and luck.

"You can sell your house, take your money, and test the waters by doing something you believe in," he said. "And maybe you'll be successful and maybe you won't, and that's what entrepreneuring has been for me, and I have failed."

Earlier in his life, Moore owned a gas station that he thought was a great success. It flourished for five years, but ultimately went under. And in 1988, his mill was burned down by an arsonist.

"I lost everything," he said. "I lost our entire investment. I know what it feels like in my stomach when you can't pay the bills."

But he learned from his mistakes and kept taking chances, eventually making his mark in American households.

Retirement is not in Moore's sights anytime soon. He celebrated his 81st birthday this week and plans to continue to serve on the company's board of directors.

"I'm never going to retire," he said. "I love coming to work. I love the challenges, and working with people and the way that you get to do that when you're in business."