Another One Bites the Dust
Kevin Salwen on Making a Difference
Tom's of Maine today joined the list of companies that started with a social mission and now will try to continue that mission in the arms of a massive public company. Colgate is buying 84% of the stock in privately held Tom's for $100 million.
For those who follow the social missions of companies, it's been hard not to notice Tom's. Created by Tom Chappell, the firm grew nicely because of its values and unique flavors for its toothpastes and other hygiene products. Its products do not contain artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colors, flavors or animal ingredients, and are tested without the use of animals. Beyond that, Tom's donates 10% of its profit to charitable organizations and encourages its employees to use 5% of their paid time for volunteer work.
We can sit and lament the name brands that have 'sold out' for size sake: Ben & Jerry's, Odwalla, Stonyfield Farm, and others. But their founders have varying perspectives, as Worthwhile Senior Editor David Batstone reported in our March 2005 issue:
-- Gary Hirshberg, the co-founder of Stonyfield, which is now roughly 80% owned by yogurt giant Group Danone, sees his company's deal as a chance for a bigger platform: 'I view the Danone deal as an opportunity to take our mission to a larger arena.' Today, 10% of Stonyfield's profit continues to go to environmental causes.
-- Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's, is far less satisfied after that company's purchase by Unilever. 'Although there are some wonderful people with a social conscience inside Unilever, most of what was the soul of Ben & Jerry's has been lost,' he told Dave. These days, he urges entrepreneurs to stay independent at almost any cost.
-- Greg Steltenpohl, a founder of Odwalla, had a completely different experience, finding himself forced to sell the natural-juice company by a board he mistakenly thought was in tune with his environmental values. Odwalla's acquisition by Coca-Cola has been disappointing to him: 'At first, I hoped that the spirit of Odwalla would make a positive impact on Coke. But the truth is, we just filled up one more rack on Coke's delivery trucks.'
Let's hope Tom's of Maine can be more than just another rack on Colgate's trucks. I wonder if there is a right formula for expansion with conscience.