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How the late Bob's Red Mill founder avoided selling out to a food giant and instead transferred ownership to his 700 employees

Kelsey Vlamis   

How the late Bob's Red Mill founder avoided selling out to a food giant and instead transferred ownership to his 700 employees
  • Bob Moore, founder of Bob's Red Mill, died at age 94 on Saturday.
  • Moore said corporations tried to buy the company, but he transferred ownership to the employees.

Bob Moore, the founder of Bob's Red Mill, who died on Saturday, set up a unique ownership model for his natural food company.

Rather than sell out to a food giant, he transferred full ownership to his employees — more than 700 of them.

"Bob's passion, ingenuity, and respect for others will forever inspire the employee-owners of Bob's Red Mill, and we will carry on his legacy by bringing wholesome foods to people around the world," the company said in an Instagram post announcing his death. "We will truly miss his energy and larger-than-life personality."

Moore, who was 94 when he died, founded Bob's Red Mill with his wife, Charlee, in Oregon in 1978. In the decades that followed, the couple grew their whole-grain food company into a global empire that did more than $100 million annually, selling over 200 products in more than 70 countries.

According to Bob's Red Mill, Moore and his wife's mission was to provide wholesome food to people around the world and provide their employees with financial security.

"As the company grew and became more successful, Bob found himself fending off one offer after another — large corporations that wanted to buy Bob's Red Mill," the company says on its website, adding that selling the company would've made Moore a lot of money.

In 2010, "after succeeding beyond his wildest dreams," Moore created an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP, that would distribute stock in the company to the people who worked there.

By April 2020, Bob's Red Mill was 100% employee-owned.

Only around 6,533 companies in the US used the ESOP model as of 2021, according to the National Center for Employee Ownership.

When asked why he chose an employee-owned model during an interview with Portland Monthly last year, Moore, who was Christian, cited the bible.

"The Bible says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you," he said. "And so there's an element of how you treat people that impressed me. And sharing in the profit, sharing in the company to make things more fair and more benevolent impressed me, and I felt strongly about it."

Moore said, at first, they started giving employees a percentage of the profits when the business was doing well, a practice they followed for years. But after learning about the ESOP model and spending years considering it, he said they decided it was the right thing to do.

Initially, a third of the company was transferred to employees, then another third, and finally the whole thing.

"The more everyone organizes and works hard, the greater the profitability of the company, and that translates into higher value of ownership," Moore told Portland Monthly.

In 2022, when some business leaders were complaining about a labor shortage, Moore said executive greed was to blame and that more companies could adopt the ESOP model, Fortune reported. He said employees at Bob's Red Mill feel valued and informed, an approach other companies could learn from.

"Businesspeople continually reach out to me, interested in buying my company, like they're doing me a great favor," Moore told the outlet, adding, "They thought I was just a lame-brained idiot because I didn't want to sell my company. They told me how stupid I was, but you can't build what I've built and be really stupid."

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