Angela J. Bass

Small Business Awards 2007: Die-Hard Independent Award


In 2000, when Gary Erickson, founder and owner of Clif Bar and Co., told reps from Quaker Oats – the fourth largest consumer goods company in the world – that he needed to go for a walk before signing over his company for $120 million, they thought he was bluffing to secure a larger payout.

"He literally had his pen this close to the contract," recalls Sheryl O’Loughlin, outgoing CEO of the company, as she poises the tip of an ink pen a couple inches above a notepad at her desk. "The way he described it was that his hand started to shake. Something just didn’t feel right."

Erickson chewed over the life-changing dilemma as he walked the block surrounding his Berkeley office building. Did he honestly want to exchange an eight-year enterprise to produce and successfully market an appetizing assortment of energy bars and drinks for the life of an instant multimillionaire and all the attendant comforts it yields – mansions, shopping sprees, and exotic trips?

And how could the company founder not sell when the consensus among consultants, Erickson’s now ex-partner, and even some of his employees was that Clif Bar’s competitors would eat them alive if he didn’t? Deserting the Clif Bar empire before its fated downfall seemed to be the only logical move.

"Nestle had just bought PowerBar, which was really big at the time, and then Kraft bought Balance Bar," O’Loughlin explains. "So naturally there was a ton of pressure to sell, because we [supposedly] couldn’t make it on our own."

In spite of the risk or perhaps because of it, Erickson returned to his office with a new resolve and announced to the investment banker, lawyers, and his stunned partner that the deal was off. He then literally told them all to go home.

"I went from the darkest of dark to the highest of highs the moment I realized I didn’t have to sign that contract," marvels Erickson during a phone interview. The company founder – with his wife and partner, Kit Crawford – is resuming leadership of their company with just under 200 employees.

"I was more excited at that moment than probably any other moment of my life, aside from having children."

A year after ditching Quaker Oats at the altar, Erickson could identify another important reason why he did it. Although he and his partner were promised postacquisition roles in the company, as signing day neared it became clear that this was merely a typical sweet nothing often whispered in the midst of a seductive corporate takeover.

But once Quaker Oats unveiled its plan to move the Clif Bar operations to its offices in Chicago and told Erickson that his people in Berkeley would basically be out of their jobs, he got a whiff of the company’s true oats.

The decision invigorated Erickson and motivated him to define Clif Bar’s bottom line beyond its profits. He came up with what the company now refers to as the Five Aspirations: business, brand, planet, community, and people. This new mission galvanized the creators of Luna, Nectar, Mojo, and Builder’s bars to make 70 percent of each product organic and use biodiesel trucks between their bakery and destination centers.

On the community tip, Clif Bar donates approximately 1 percent of its net sales in the form of food, money, and volunteer time. Each employee volunteers at least 20 community service hours per year during paid work time, which can entail anything from assisting Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans to planting community gardens in Hunters Point.

Though a commitment to green practices and community service has boosted company morale, masseuses, salons, in-office rock climbing walls, personal trainers, and laundry facilities, among other staff perks, also serve to sustain Clif Bar’s people. How’s that for ulterior motives? (Angela J. Bass)


1610 Fifth St., Berk.


Superlist No. 829: Safe houses



In 1971 community activist Bea Robinson improvised a battered-women’s shelter in the garage of her San Jose home. Thanks to demands for shelter legislation by women’s rights groups of the same era, an ample network of Bay Area safe houses is now available to women from all walks of life — from abused mothers and trafficked teens to marginalized immigrants and disempowered queers.

Each of the listed shelters is communal, confidentially located, child friendly, and multilingual. They also offer or can help secure longer-term housing, counseling, and legal aid. Other services include food, clothing, transportation, employment assistance, and play areas. Calling one of these confidential 24-hour crisis lines starts the shelter intake process and connects battered women to the Bea Robinsons of the Bay Area.

In an effort to keep families united, Oakland’s A Safe Place (510-536-SAFE, accepts male children up to age 17. During the maximum eight-week stay, residents receive counseling while younger children participate in play therapy.

Substance-free women and their children may reside indefinitely in one of the 16 beds at Marin Abused Women’s Services (MAWS) (English: 415-924-6616; Spanish: 415-924-3456; men’s line: 415-924-1070; MAWS works globally to educate communities about the sociopolitical roots of domestic violence. In 1980, MAWS initiated ManKind, a male-led program that reeducates imprisoned abuse offenders and confronts community beliefs that support male violence.

San Francisco’s Asian Women’s Shelter (AWS) (1-877-751-0880, renders services in 31 Asian languages. The AWS serves all women but is especially outfitted for Asian immigrants who speak little to no English. An average stay at its 18-bed shelter lasts 12 to 16 weeks, though extensions are often granted. The Queer Asian Women Services program supports lesbian, bisexual, and transgender survivors of relationship violence. The AWS also confronts forced labor and sexual exploitation via the Asian Anti-Trafficking Collaborative. Its affiliate, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, offers pro bono legal services.

Building Futures with Women and Children (1-866-A-WAY-OUT,, a 20-bed safe house in San Leandro, doesn’t exclude women with substance abuse or mental health issues, as do some shelters. A typical stay at this former overnight winter relief refuge also known as Sister Me Home can last up to 21 weeks. Programs include child tutoring, parent support groups, and family night — one night per week of guided mother-child bonding.

The Emergency Shelter Program (ESP) (1-888-339-SAFE, in Hayward can accommodate 40 women and their children, including teen boys, for 12 weeks. The ESP also accepts single teen mothers and functions as a homeless shelter for those who have been evicted, are out of work, or are experiencing familial hardship.

As San Francisco’s largest domestic violence shelter, La Casa de las Madres (adults: 1-877-503-1850; teens: 1-877-923-0700; can house up to 35 women and children for eight weeks at a time. Thanks to a 24-hour intake, women can be admitted to the shelter whenever necessary. Art therapy and animal-assisted counseling give residents a chance to learn, relax, and have fun. The teen program offers a 24-hour emergency crisis line and youth-tailored services for battered or at-risk girls.

Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence (408-501-7550,, whose crisis line hasn’t changed for the past 34 years, is Robinson’s brainchild. The shelter can accommodate up to 19 women and children for as long as four weeks. Elderly battered women older than 50 can benefit from the unique MAVEN (Mature Alternatives to Violent Environments Now) program, which offers home visits and recreational activities. On-site legal services include court accompaniment and support for undocumented immigrants.

The Riley Center (415-255-0165,, a program of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco, gives priority to women and children in immediate danger. Its 25-bed shelter, known as the Rosalie House, provides a 12-week refuge. Families receive private rooms, though women without children may have to share accommodations. Residents perform basic chores in shared living spaces. Prospective residents should call the crisis line for a confidential interview with a trained counselor.

Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments (SAVE) (510-794-6055, is in Fremont but serves the world over. It offers a 30-bed shelter — the only battered shelter in Fremont, Newark, and Union City — where women and their children can reside for 12 weeks. Counseling with a licensed clinical therapist is available for a sliding-scale fee. SAVE also holds free drop-in support groups facilitated by certified domestic violence counselors on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Concord’s STAND! Against Domestic Violence (1-888-215-5555, manages additional offices in Richmond, Antioch, and Pittsburg to better serve its Contra Costa County hub. The Rollie Mullen Center, a six-building complex containing its 24-bed shelter, can accommodate families and individuals for up to six weeks. On-site services and amenities include long-term transitional housing, a computer lab, and a playroom. *