Burt’s Bees – Mission, Myth and a Buzzing Business – Interview with Jim Geikie, General Manager

img_3896aYes, Burt really existed. The wild-bearded man on the brand’s logo was a documentary photographer turned beekeeper after moving from Manhattan to Maine. He left behind the trappings of a rather privileged upbringing to live in a converted turkey coop in the backwoods (where he also died in 2015).  But it is unlikely that you or I would ever have heard about Burt and his bees and it is certain we would not be able to moisturize your lips with one of the iconic balms that bear their name, if it were not for a woman: Roxanne Quimby. It turns out that Burt played the role of mentor and muse, of an enigmatic, spiritual Ueber-Father of the brand, while Roxanne was the ingenious product developer and business builder who really made ‘Burt’s Bees happen’ as Jim Geikie tells us.

bb-lip-balmAnd Jim should know.  He is the General Manager of the business today and a Vice President at Clorox, the parent company which bought the business in 2007 for a whopping $925 million in cash.  Burt had been bought out by previously by Roxanne for just $130,000 but apparently never complained  … which provides just one of the many ingredients to this mythical story that is the man, the couple, the bees, the product… But before we get into the myth, Jim lays out Burt’s Bees guiding mission.  For, while Burt’s Bees is no Luxury brand, its nature and health-centric mission and befitting myth have allowed the brand to carve out a premium position within the mass personal care and beauty segment. Jim and I will also talk about:

  • what makes the business buzz despite a 300% price premium and no discounts
  • when to say ‘No’ to the easy way forward and how to justify it
  • how to balance the needs of brand, parent company and consumer
  • who works at Burt’s Bees -why and how they join
  • why Jim thinks corporate ownership of mission-driven brands in not only the norm but a good model for everyone involved.

CLICK THE PLAY BUTTON below to hear the interview. Scroll down for further reading and some more pictures I took before and after the interview at at Burt’s Bees in Durham, NC.

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For more insights what drives the success of Ueber-Brands like Burt’s Bees, read our book “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueberbrands” and other case-studies on this blog.

Here is a link to the Burt’s Bees website, to the film about Burt that Jim mentioned to a wiki about Burt and about Roxanne Quimby.  And a small report on Burt’s death in the Jewish daily Haaretz reflecting how he was being remembered.

Below is a document on Burt’s Bees culture that Jim shared and which reflects some of the values he talked about and the growth model Burt’s Bees’ organization  follows (click to view/download the full document)


Below are the ‘Memorial Hive’ on the outside facade of the headquarter and Burt’s hut that was being re-build in front of the building while I visited.



img_3803One can’t miss the detailed bees painted across the brick facade. They were painted by artist Matthew Willey with the help of Burt’s Bees employees. Willey has pledged to paint 50,000 bees (the number of bees in a healthy hive) to help awareness for Colony Collapse Disorder (we talk about it briefly in the interview) and raise funds to help find a cure for this phenomenon that threatens to wipe out native bees across North America (article in the local newspaper).





About JP Kuehlwein

JP Kuehlwein is a global business leader and brand builder with a 25+ year track record of translating consumer and brand insights into transformational propositions that win in market. Principal at ‘Ueber-Brands’ a New York consulting firm, he now helps others to elevate brands and make them peerless and priceless. JP also teaches brand strategy at NYU Stern and Columbia Business School and leads the Marketing Institute at The Conference Board, all in New York. Jp previously was Executive Vice President at Frédéric Fekkai & Co, a prestige salon operator and hair care brand and lead brand- and corporate strategy development and execution at multinational Procter & Gamble as Brand Director and Director of Strategy. JP and Wolf Schaefer have co-authored the best-selling books “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” which lays out what drives the success of modern premium brands and "Brand Elevation - Lessons in Ueber-Branding" a guide to developing and executing a brand elevation strategy. Find the books here: https://bit.ly/UeberBooks
This entry was posted in 1 - Mission Incomparable - The first rule is to make your own, 3 - From Myth to Meaning - The best way up is to go deep, 4 - Behold! - The product as manifestation, 5 - Living the Dream - The bubble shall never burst, 7 - Moving with Gravitas - The king never hurries, PODCAST and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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