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Burt's Bees Founder's Famous Story Center of New Film

The story of how Burt Shavitz lost his own company is well known, but the man himself is an enigma. A new film tries to shed light on the entrepreneur.
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It's one of the most dramatic founder break-up stories out there: that of Burt's Bees co-founders Burt Shavitz and now ex-wife Roxanne Quimby.

And now there's new documentary that aims to shed a little more light on the story.

"Burt's Buzz," directed by Jody Shapiro, debuted at the Toronto Film Festival this week. The film includes interviews with the bearded Shavitz himself along with his brother and stepson.

While most know the story of Shavitz's falling out with the company (and his wife), according to a Hollywood Reporter review, the film gives viewers a little glimpse into Shavitz's famously eccentric personality. 

The review states: 

"The film offers some diverting background on the man, who turns out to have been a talented photographer in his youth. Street photography in New York City was going well when he up and left, living "like a high class hobo" upstate until he decided to use the beekeeping gear someone had given him. He eked by selling honey, kept the wax not knowing what he'd do with it, and only started making other products when Roxanne came on the scene. The rest is history...Shavitz's brother and Quimby's son are the most revealing interviewees here... but only inasmuch as they can share what it's like to spend time with the man. As for what makes him tick, they haven't got a clue."

Though Quimby doesn't appear in the film, Inc. interviewed her in 2004. She's widely known as being tough--the head-strong force behind the Burt's Bees brand. 

In her own words, she said: 

"I tend to be very uncompromising. My dad was a despot, and I got that from him. Though I used to see it as an attribute, I'm trying to modify this "my way or the highway" attitude. For instance, we put our product in cases of six, and Target wanted them in two. We'd be using three cardboard boxes instead of one, which I opposed. I kind of said, "Screw you, I'm not using three boxes." I felt I was right because we were drowning in waste on this planet. Now I think there was probably a way to have worked through that. Many times there's a solution buried in there if you just take away the layers and keep after it."

If you need a little history lesson, the story went like this: In the early 80s, hippie bee-keeper Shavitz met Quimby, a single mother at the time, and the two got married and slowly expanded the product line beyond honey. The first big hit was beeswax lip balm.

By the 90s, the company was raking in millions in revenue. But Quimby found out that Shavitz was having an affair with a college-aged girl (he admits this himself in the new film). According to reports, along with a divorce, Quimby bought Shavitz out of his one-third stake in the company by buying him a $130,000 house in Maine. By 2000, Burt's Bees was making a reported $23 million in revenue and in 2007, Clorox bought the company for a reported $925 million--leaving Shavitz out of a huge payday.

Today, according to the Daily Beast, Shavitz is a brand ambassador for the company, but lives in the backwoods of Maine with no television or hot water. 

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Sep 13, 2013

NICOLE CARTER | Staff Writer | San Francisco Bureau Chief

Nicole Carter is Inc.'s San Francisco bureau chief. She was previously an editor at New York Daily News, and her work has also appeared in Consumer Reports magazine.




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