In 1992, Clif Bar & Company founder Gary Erickson created a better-tasting energy bar following the inspiration of a 175-mile bike ride. Eight years later, he and wife Kit Crawford walked away from a $120 million offer to sell the company in order to remain private and operate in service of five aspirations: sustaining the business, brands, people, community, and planet. In the seventeen years since that decision, the company’s accounting leader Cristen Lunt has been along for the ride as the organic food company charted its rapid rise to a household name among adventure seekers everywhere. As the vice president of accounting and corporate controller, Lunt has guided Clif Bar & Company to a ten-year compounded annual growth rate of 16 percent.
That sustained growth stems from Clif Bar’s five aspirations business model philosophy, Lunt says. The family- and employee-owned company runs on five aspirations or bottom lines, and Lunt’s team pinpoints ways for leadership to grow the business and brands alongside an equal commitment to people, planet, and community.
“We’ve gone from a small start-up to a medium-size company, and that’s challenging and exciting,” Lunt says. “It’s such a great place to work, and we’re learning new things every day. We are a high-growth company, and we continually evolve to meet the demands of our customers and business model. By having multiple bakeries and offices in different time zones, we are making bars twenty-four hours a day. So from my perspective, we are reliant on strong process, policies, and procedures.”
Guided by the five aspirations, Lunt’s team streamlines and secures the business to allot resources for philanthropic opportunities in and outside of the company. “At Clif Bar & Company, we see ourselves as owners rather than employees, and teamwork is our secret ingredient to building a successful and thriving business,” Lunt says. “When we go into our communities and do volunteer work, we leverage our team to help build successful and thriving communities.”
Lunt joined Clif Bar as a senior accountant in 2001. That same year, the company launched its community outreach initiative, Clif Corps. The giving and engagement program empowers employees to donate Clif products, money, and time—even during work hours. The program reached a milestone total of 100,000 hours of community service in October 2017.
“Community is a really important aspiration for Clif people, and we have goals each year for employees to volunteer a certain number of hours individually,” she says. “We have an outstanding matching program—raise up to $2,000 for a nonprofit organization and Clif Bar will match that. We do a lot of volunteering as a team, too.”
All-company volunteer days include park restoration and community gardens, and an annual golf tournament has raised more than $500,000 for underprivileged youth. Employees promote nonprofits, such as Meals on Wheels, and partake in “Cool Commute” and “Cool Home” internal programs, which incentivize eco-friendly alternatives. And since 2008, Clif Bar has scaled its charitable efforts with the “In Good Company” initiative that unites other companies to build larger development projects for communities in need.
Ranked in the “Top Women in Grocery” by Progressive Grocer magazine in 2017, Lunt is fueled by the company’s holistic mission, and she wields her fiscal expertise gleaned over her twenty-two-year career to keep these programs running strong.
“We’re leveraging automated processes within our ERP system to process transactions faster,” Lunt says. “At first, I knew everything that was happening. I would review, print, and sign every single check. But as we’ve grown in size and complexity, we’ve replaced manual processes with automation and strong controls to ensure that our financials are accurate and give our team bandwidth to focus on steering other pieces of our five aspirations business model.” For example, all of the accounts payable processing is paperless, and funding is 90 percent electronic, Lunt adds.
Lunt began working as an auditor at Maze & Associates after earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting at St. Mary’s College of California. In 2000, she certified as a public accountant while overseeing accounting for a local division of Tetra Tech. In less than three years at Clif Bar, she was promoted to controller and again to her current roles in 2013.
Now, she’s helping Clif Bar navigate international expansion, and Clif Bar’s products fill store shelves across fifteen countries, including the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Last June, Clif Bar announced a new location in the Netherlands. Lunt’s team spent the year prior setting up the site’s tax and legal structure to conduct business in various currencies and countries. They also worked in collaboration with IT for the launch of the new foreign entity.
“We are focused on growing our international business because there’s a lot of potential,” Lunt explains. “We needed to understand how Clif Bar Europe operations would transact within an efficient systematic process that ensures compliance with value-added tax, transfer pricing, local reporting, income tax requirements, and filing of our regulatory compliance reports.”
Lunt also laid the groundwork for Clif Bar & Company to move part of its manufacturing in-house in 2016 with two owned-and-operated bakeries: one in Indianapolis and the other in Twin Falls, Idaho. This transition has meant in-house production for two of its popular brands, CLIF Bar and Z Bar.
With more than a thousand employees, Clif Bar’s investment in its people is not only good for communities, but also for business. Repeatedly named among Outside magazine’s “Best Places to Work,” Clif Bar fosters high employee engagement through impressive amenities. For example, employees get two and half hours of paid exercise each week and on-site gyms with free personal training, counseling, and life coaching services.
“When I first saw the opportunity at Clif Bar, it really resonated,” Lunt says. “They believe in work/life balance and not just running a business off of how much money you’re making.”
Grant Thornton LLP understands that an organization’s success is built on more than just talent; it takes leadership, passion, and commitment to achieve growth. We are proud to recognize Cristen Lunt who exemplifies these pillars of success through her exceptional work at Clif Bar & Co. Congratulations Cristen!
Giving Back on Track
When Cristen Lunt is not streamlining Clif Bar’s finances, she is volunteering as a member of the Board of Regents at her alma mater, St. Mary’s College of California. She joined the organization in 2014 and has since created a scholarship endowment for the women’s cross country team.
“Part of my success through high school and college was having an outlet,” Lunt says. “Running on the cross country team gave me the confidence and strength that helped me later be very successful in my career. It was important to me to give back to St. Mary’s community in some way.”
Lunt raised $65,000 in an investment account, and all of the interest earned over time can be used by the cross country coach for scholarships for women athletes.