The memory of a small green fishing boat, bumping along the shore while avoiding barges carrying gigantic rolls of paper through the main channel of Puget Sound, blowing their horns and threatening to sink his rented vessel, stands out in Bob Moore’s mind as clearly as if it were yesterday. In fact, it was more than 30 years ago, the early days of Bob’s Red Mill. It was a time, Bob says, that his small enterprise “was the culmination of all I ever wanted to do in life.”
Funny how things turn out.
His wife, Charlee, was determined to feed her husband and three sons healthy whole grains at a time when such food wasn’t in fashion or readily available. Then, as she is today, Charlee became Bob’s inspiration for making waves in the food business.
Before he bought his first mill in 1972, Bob had a successful career as proprietor of a gas station. An automobile aficionado – he owns two 1931 Ford Model As – he says he learned important lessons during his entrepreneurial years, including the need for autonomy. For being able to make his own decisions without investors dictating his every move.
That lesson is perhaps most relevant to his success today because it speaks to what Bob and Charlee hold most dear and make priority No. 1 in their professional and personal lives – people.
“I want to make my own decisions in dealing with my customers and employees,” Bob says. And he wants his employees to feel a similar autonomy in doing their best work. “I try to give people the freedom to do the right thing,” he says. “Everyone understands that if you’re not comfortable working here, we have a problem.”
It’s difficult to imagine an instance where that might be true, and if you spend any amount of time in Bob’s Red Mill, you would be hard pressed to either.
After all, what company CEO takes time to walk the floors visiting with employees or hanging out in the lunchroom reading the paper? The answer is not many, but Bob and Charlee designed their company with people in mind, and transparency and accessibility are part of the package.
Values – including fairness, a sense of right and wrong, respect and gratitude – are ingrained in this pair, who both had the good fortune to grow up in families that demonstrated them firsthand. Bob’s father, his greatest role model – except for the fact he smoked, Bob adds – “had wonderful standards of fairness and of respect and appreciation of things.”
But it’s not only values that have kept the Moores on course. It’s also faith. He may not wear it on his sleeve, but he says, “This is how I think. This is how I believe. And this has made a difference in who I am. A sense of comfort can’t come from having a big bank account, and if you’re going to write about me, you’re going to have to write about what makes me tick.”
Not only has his faith provided him with a moral compass, it also has given him the confidence to experiment, innovate, risk mistakes and begin to move his small boat out into the Sound.
The best is yet to come
This year marks 40 years in the milling business for the Moores, who opened a flour mill in Redding, Calif., before moving to the Northwest in 1978 to build what is now Bob’s Red Mill.
When that Northwest mill in Milwaukie, Ore., burned down in 1988, Bob briefly considered retirement but decided he couldn’t let down his employees, one of whom had just bought his first house.
“I couldn’t leave them without jobs,” he says. “The company’s best years came after that.”
Did you know? On his 80th birthday, Bob gave away the company – to his employees. Watch him discuss why with Diane Sawyer.
For 2012, Bob expects $135 million in company sales, after another record-breaking year in 2011, during which sales reached more than $115 million. The mill’s more than 400 products can be found in some 70 countries. Bob’s serene, smiling face, it seems, is everywhere.
But what his fan base – he receives emails and letters daily and elicits many a photo request from visitors through the mill – doesn’t see is Bob’s even-keeled demeanor, an honest-to-goodness sparkle in his eyes and the way he dotes on his wife of 60 years, holding her hand at every opportunity.
You can’t talk about Bob without Charlee – nor would you want to. She is the quiet, easygoing partner who “demonstrated the goodness of this company in the home,” Bob says. “She gives the business value and purpose.”
Partners and complements, the Moores share respect. She’s his muse, his cherished wife who backs him up and is able to get through to him when others may not. Bob, she says, is the leader.
“It’s amazing all he’s done,” she says softly, shaking her head. “It still floors me when I walk through the door and am reminded of just how big this business has become. It’s his baby.”
Nor is the staggering growth of Bob’s Red Mill lost on its founder. “I feel my responsibility, first and foremost, is like the captain of a big ship. And it’s getting bigger and bigger, like it’s some huge container ship and they keep adding more containers,” Bob says.
“And if the ship is headed to the shoals, then I need to correct it.”
At 83, Bob remains involved in every aspect of Bob’s Red Mill.
In fact, in the last year he and Charlee have expanded their vision of whole grain foods to the world of education. They gifted $25 million to Oregon Health Sciences University to establish the Moore Institute for Nutrition and Wellness, $1.35 million to the National College of Natural Medicine to help educate Oregon families about healthy food choices, and $5 million to our College of Public Health and Human Sciences to create the Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health, which will provide for an endowed director and the renovation of food labs in Milam Hall – what Bob calls “a 21st century space in a 19th century building.”
“You’re doing a marvelous job,” he told college staff on a recent campus visit. “Your hearts are all in the right place and beating in time. We’re opening new doors to health.”
Putting his money where his mouth is, Bob is 100 percent convinced of the value of whole grains and uses that conviction and his resources to educate the public to their health benefits. And he clearly is no longer intimidated by the big guys with their size and the sound of their horns.
“I have a whole horn-honking department,” he jokes. “We’re not staying out of the main channel any more. There’s a lot to learn out there, too.”
Be sure to visit Bob’s Red Mill Website and Facebook for seemingly endless products and recipes. And if you are in the area, stop by the Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Store, Restaurant and Bakery. The Synergies staff did and had a really great time.