When I visited Bob’s Red Mill World Headquarters a few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of the book People Before Profit: The Inspiring Story of the Founder of Bob’s Red Mill. Bob Moore is somewhat of a local celebrity in the Portland area and he made national news several years ago when he handed over ownership of his company to his employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). As I have previously written on my blog, I am a huge fan of the Bob’s Red Mill whole grain product line. They’re healthy, affordable and — since I live in the Portland area — I am supporting the local economy through my purchases. I also like the fact that I am supporting a company that cares about its employees, rather than a company where the CEO is making 300 times its lowest wage worker.
The prologue of People Before Profit begins with the story of Bob handing over the company to his employees on his 81st birthday, perhaps one of the most significant events in the history of the company. Chapter One highlights another major event — a 1988 fire set by a local arsonist that destroyed the mill. With only enough insurance to reimburse the cost of the building, Bob and his wife Charlee nearly lost everything. 60 years old at the time of the fire, Bob was closing in on the age where people generally think about retirement, yet he made the decision to rebuild his company — largely for the sake of his employees for whom he cared deeply.
This biography tells the story of Bob’s entire life — all 80+ years of it. Beginning with his childhood — including cute anecdotes about his first kiss and how he was expelled from the 3rd grade — author Ken Koopman draws his material from hundreds of hours of interviews with Bob, and I imagined Bob’s voice coming through in the story.
What I liked best about the book is its general “feel good” nature. Although the story clearly demonstrates the rollercoaster ride Bob went through on the track to becoming a successful entrepreneur (losing all of his money at least three times, facing near-homelessness with his wife and three sons on one occasion), there are ample anecdotes from Bob’s life that really give the story heart and show Bob as a person and CEO who generally loves and cares about people. Perhaps he has fulfilled his goal of becoming “the Colonel Sanders of Whole Grains.”
This 300+ page book also includes a lot of company history, including expansion, detailed annual (and sometimes monthly) profits, public relations, and capital growth. As I am not really a business person, I found these parts to be overly length. I appreciated the character sketches of Bob and some of his employees, and I wished there were actually more sketches of the people who will benefit from the ESOP (there were a few).
I would recommend this book for business owners, entrepreneurial folks and those with a passion for living a healthy and sustainable life.