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The Buzz on Burt's Bees: Lessons From the Company's Eccentric Namesake

The iconic bearded man on the cosmetic brand's products lives a reclusive, not-so-entrepreneurial life. But he still has much to offer.
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The first thing you'll learn from the recently released documentary Burt's Buzz, which tracks the unlikely rise of a natural cosmetics company Burt's Bees is that there really is a Burt... and he looks precisely like his picture: wirfy frame, corkscrew locks and a grizzled beard to match.

Burt Shavitz, the 79 year-old entrepreneur, who long ago relinquished his role in the company, spends his days in rural Maine, where he owns a 40-acre plot of land. You'll also learn that he's not exactly living the high life, even though the company he helped found is now worth about $1 billion. There are no Bentleys or yachts parked in his driveway. The entrepreneur prefers the company of his dogs to bunnies and his only entertainment is a portable radio. 

In a world that's become downright obsessed with technology and the next big thing, Shavitz is something of a technology anti-hero. 

"If electricity went out, didn't make a bit of difference. I had a candle. I was in a good place," the aging hippie recently told the New York Times.

 

It might seem impossible to discover business strategies from this reclusive man. After all, he rather famously gave up his stake in the company in exchange for a house in Maine when his wife and co-founder divorced him. This happened right before Clorox acquired the company for a reported $925 million in 2007.

Still, it would be unwise to discount the face of a brand that's become a household name among millions of people around the world. Here are three lessons from the unlikely rise of cosmetics brand:

Don't Compromise your values.

The success of Burt's Bees is owed much to Shavitz' business-minded co-founder and ex-wife, Roxanne Quimby, who saw the greater business opportunity in her former husband's roadside honey business. Though the arguments between the couple finally resulted in Shavitz' exit from the company, there were things that they agreed on: Never compromise.

In a 2004 interview with Inc., Quimby said she tended to be very "uncompromising." This attitude of "my way or highway" made her to reject Target's suggestion to use three cardboard boxes instead of one, which would have caused more waste. That kind of "earth friendliness" has remained core to its brand years later.

You are your brand.

Even though Shavitz' hermetic lifestyle has many setbacks--he doesn't have running hot water, for example--his respect for the mother nature actually reinforces the brand value. The more he seems to be isolated from the urban life, the more customers believe in Burt's Bees' commitment to be "natural."

This may not be an intended result, but there's a lesson all the same: Having a leader who represents a company's values is the most cost-effective marketing strategy. (The company employs him as a brand ambassador and for the use of his image.) 

Your business should survive without you.

Your day may be like this: Wake up, check your inbox and reply to some potential clients. On your way to work, you draw down some key points for a upcoming pitch to an investor. At the office, you host a meeting with the employees telling them what to do next. Then your phone rings, someone tells you there's technical issue you have to fix. It just feels like: Your business will die without you.

All these are done when Shavitz is sitting there in his rocking chair in northern Maine watching his dogs running on his 40-acre land. Yet Burt's Bees is still thriving. The moral of the story stands true to almost all businesses: A strong business will continue to grow with a strong management team, not only you.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Jul 18, 2014

YOLANDA LU

Yolanda Lu (Yun Lu; she usually goes by her Spanish name, Yolanda) is an editorial intern at Inc.com. Originally from Beijing, she is pursuing her master?s degree in business journalism at New York University. Lu is interested in the booming startup scene in NYC and enjoys meeting founders and investors over coffee. She?s also into digital media and learns to code in her spare time.




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