Clif Bar CEO nourishes customers, people & the planet
Every Sunday, Kevin Cleary EMP 55 sits down to plan out his week. It’s meticulously laid out and includes all of his workouts, runs and rides. He notes the times and distances for each activity and then adds them to a spreadsheet. Ask him for proof and he will be happy to produce a document that spans every week for the last 15 years.
Cleary approaches the rest of his life with the same tenacity, determination and efficiency. As the CEO of Clif Bar & Company, a household name in organic food, he manages to run a company with not one but five bottom lines, retain a vigorous exercise regimen and even find time to coach his sons’ baseball teams.
Cleary shared his journey to his current career and experience at Kellogg.
First things first – tell us a little about yourself.
I’m married with three boys; 6-year-old twins and a 4-year-old. I love to bike and run, and I regularly do triathlons. Otherwise, I love what I get to do every day. I work at a very cool company that is different from any other place I’ve worked.
Why did you come to Kellogg?
I was always really impressed with the caliber of people who came from Kellogg, especially their focus on teamwork and marketing. I felt these hallmarks of the program were two of the most important skills a leader can have.
Why did you want to get your MBA in an executive MBA program?
I thought about getting my MBA in my mid- to late-20s, but I didn’t feel like I had the business experience I would need to get the most out of a program. By my late 30s, I had gained the right amount of management experience and knowledge to build on. It was clear that getting my MBA could help me gain the additional breadth of experience needed to take my career to the next level especially for those areas that were outside of my day-to-day responsibilities such as legal and supply chain. Once I started my executive MBA program, I found that I was able to take what I was learning in the classroom and apply it to my job the very next day.
How did you grow during your time here?
Well, I put on weight because of all those frozen yogurts in the cafeteria!
But on a serious note, I grew as a person. It was a humbling experience to be surrounded by so many different experiences and skills sets. Learning from other students broadened my approach because I was able to draw on the collective experiences of my classmates. One of my favorite classes was crisis management. I loved that it was hands-on and action oriented.
Why do you want to lead Clif Bar?
For so many reasons. First of all, we’re breaking new ground. We’re the first company that I know of runs on five bottom lines: sustaining our business, brands, people, communities and the planet. I’m not claiming we’re perfect at this approach, but it is a massive challenge that I am happy to take on. We run our decision through the filter of the five bottom lines and it helps us come out with better solutions. Additionally, we hold ourselves accountable to goals in each of these areas and our employees are incented to perform against each bottom line.
It is inspiring to be in a place where I come to work and I know I am doing right by the planet, communities and people. And, I love the food! I’m an avid cyclist and I eat CLIF Bars and CLIF MOJO bars every day. My kids are eating CLIF KID ZBars all the time. The quality of our food is at the core of what we do.
Clif Bar is known for its sustainable practices. For instance, it started “Cool Commute,” the first employee incentive program specifically aimed at encouraging employees to switch from a traditional fuel car to a hybrid or biodiesel car. As CEO, how does sustainability fit in to your plans for your business?
Sustainability has to be integrated into the company’s DNA, otherwise daily decision making will just default to one bottom line. Every day at Clif Bar, we’re making decisions based on sustainability.
We create food that tastes awesome, provides the right nutrition, and respects the planet. In addition to our food, our daily operations also need to respect the planet. For example, our headquarters is LEED-platinum certified and we’re moving toward zero waste. Our manufacturing facilities are at 80%, and our office is closing in on 90%.
We believe that sustainability isn’t just part of our business, it is our business.
What advice do you have for executive MBA students?
Do something that matters, something that goes beyond making money. Go out and change things.
Business should be about breaking inefficient things and putting better and more meaningful things in their place. We need more business leaders in the world who share that passion and commitment.
We heard you ride 25 miles to work and have a rigorous workout schedule, but you still have strict standards on work-life balance and spend time with your kids. How do you make time for it all?
I tend to be efficient. I don’t touch emails more than once, and usually, I’ll just pick up the phone instead. You’d also be surprised what you can fit in if you make it a priority.
You have to have people you trust on your team, who do their jobs better than you could do them on your own. If you don’t trust them, you’ll be working every hour of every day.
About Kevin Cleary
As chief executive officer of Clif Bar & Company, a leading maker of nutritious and organic foods and drinks for people on the go, Kevin Cleary focuses on expanding Clif Bar’s growth in the sports nutrition and healthy snacks category while leading the company’s day-to-day business operations. Kevin joined Clif Bar in 2004 after serving as senior vice president of marketing at R.R. Donnelley. Learn more about Clif Bar & Company.