Big Willy Wonka Energy: Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods Owner Surprises Employees By Giving Them The Company

When Bob Moore gathered his employees at Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods to celebrate his 81st birthday, they got a surprise instead—Moore announced his 209 employees would now own the company.

“This is Bob taking care of us,” said Lori Sobelson, who helps run the business’ retail operation. “He expects a lot out of us but really gives us the world in return.”

Moore’s executive assistant Nancy Garner said she and other employees are floored by Moore’s plan, under which any worker with at least three years tenure is now fully vested. “We’re still learning all of the details, but it’s very humbling to be part of a company that cares this much about its employees,” she said.

Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods was founded in 1978 by Moore and his wife Charlee. Moore originally had a background in electrical and mechanical engineering, but once he learned about stone grinding as well as the science behind eating whole grain foods, he started a milling operation in Portland, Oregon.

The mill was destroyed by a fire when Moore was 60. Not discouraged, he simply built a new one, the mill that currently stands in Milwaukie, Oregon.

“In some ways I had a choice,” Moore said about giving the company to his employees. “But in my heart, I didn’t. These people are far too good at their jobs for me to just sell it.”

An employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, is a retirement plan in which the company contributes its stock to the plan to be held in trust for the benefit of its employees. The stock is never bought or held directly. Vested employees are sent yearly reports detailing their stakes in the company. When those employees quit or retire, they receive in cash whatever amount they are due.

“Eventual payouts could be substantial,” said John Wagner, the company’s chief financial officer and, along with Moore, one of four partners.

“It just shows how much faith and trust Bob has in us,” said Bo Thomas, the company’s maintenance superintendent said. “For all of us, it’s more than just a job. Obviously, it’s the same way for Bob, too.”

Patricia Grisafi

Written by Patricia Grisafi