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Man gives company to his employees

Bob Moore, founder of Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: If you're a frequent visitor to stores like Whole Foods, you might have seen, or even bought, products made by Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods. The purveyor of fine grains and flours is just outside Portland, Ore. And Bob Moore is the Bob in question. He just turned 81 years old. But instead of getting a gift, he gave one to his employees. He gave them the company. Earlier this week Mr. Moore announced something called an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, a retirement plan funded by company stock, which means, in essence, that his 209 employees now own Bob's Red Mill. Bob Moore, it's good to have you with us.

BOB MOORE: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

Ryssdal: First of all, happy birthday, I guess, a little bit belated...

MOORE: Yeah, 81 on Monday.

Ryssdal: I hear it's a very good age.

MOORE: I guess it is. I got up that morning.

Ryssdal: That's right. Tell me about this thing you did with your company. You gave it away.

MOORE: Well, you know, you have to decide what you're going to do with a company. I started many years ago, and began accumulating some of the most wonderful people in the world. Some of them had been with me for over 30 years. You reach a certain point in your life, 81, we just said that. And you've got to decide what you're going to do. You can sell the company. We've had lots and lots of opportunities. There's just too many bad stories about what happens when going entities like our company are sold. The new owners don't always do what you think they should do, and they're not always kind to the employees. I just absolutely felt I had to come up with something that would work.

Ryssdal: So you set it up as a retirement account basically, right, for all your employees?

MOORE: Yeah, it is, actually. But you realize, too, Kai, that when this thing pays out in 10 years they're going to own the company. The current owners are paid off, and it's not theirs any longer. The ESOP is a very rigidly controlled government program that is meant to serve the purpose of a turnover in companies and that's exactly the way we're dealing with it. Myself and my partners, there's four of us altogether, felt it was the best transition we could think of. Because we're all getting older. I'm 81, John, my partner, is pushing 70, and Denny is just a couple of years behind him. Robert is the baby in the group, and he's in his 40s yet.

Ryssdal: Care to characterize for me how big a gift this is, the dollar amount?

MOORE: We're probably good for $80 million.

Ryssdal: That's a pretty nice retirement account you just set up.

MOORE: Yeah, it's firm things. It's very regulated. Yeah, it is. And that's basically what it is. It's protected for the employees.

Ryssdal: I'll tell you, Mr. Moore, you don't sound like a guy who's just going to sort of hang it up one day and walk away.

MOORE: I don't want to hang it up, no, Kai. I don't want to. I come to work everyday. I just love this place. I've got a corner office with windows all around. And I'm just surrounded with memorabilia, pictures, and all kinds of things of my long life, and I just don't see any reason to give it up.

Ryssdal: So you're still in charge, then, right? You're still the boss?

MOORE: Yeah, I still am. Well, I have the fiduciary responsibility of this whole thing. And until such time it's paid off, I have that responsibility, and I've chosen to be president. Anyhow, yes, I am still in charge.

Ryssdal: Bob Moore. The owner, for now, I suppose, or maybe not even anymore, of Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods up in Milwaukie, Ore. Mr. Moore, thanks a lot for your time, sir.

MOORE: Thank you very much, Kai.

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