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 and leaving the trappings of a rather privileged upbringing behind him 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 hear 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 was 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 is a proven business leader, recognized strategy expert and global brand builder. He has a 20+ year track record of successfully creating, re-staging and growing brands and their organizations around the world. Before co-founding Ueber-Brands Consulting, JP served as Managing Director of Global Strategy & Innovation, Premium Consumer at Procter & Gamble and was Executive Vice President of Frédéric Fekkai, a global prestige brand and fully owned subsidiary of P&G. He is also an External Director of Smith & Norbu, a Hong Kong-based luxury optical frame maker. JP has co-authored the bestselling “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” with Wolf Schaefer, which is quickly becoming a marketers reference book. JP is regularly involved in public speaking and teaching across industries and markets in English, French or German language. JP and Wolf’s blog and podcast ‘Ueber-Brands’ and related events are sought-after by brand builders and marketing leaders around the world. He has been named ‘Inspirational Marketer of the Year’ by the Association of National Advertisers/The Internationalist among other awards. Based out of New York City, JP is on the advisory board and a guest lecturer at the Masters Program in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (NY), an advisory board member of the CMO Council (San Jose), L2 Inc. (NY) and L2 Inc. (NY).
Gallery | 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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