On Monday, Burt’s Bees posted a tribute to its eccentric namesake, Burt Shavitz, who died at 80 over the weekend. “We remember him as a bearded, free-spirited Maine man, a beekeeper, a wisecracker, a lover of golden retrievers and his land,” the message read. “Above all, he taught us to never lose sight of our relationship with nature.”
In the pantheon of woodsy-seeming New English business folk, Shavitz is right up there with Ben and/or Jerry. In a relatively short period of time, Burt’s Bees went from backwoods beeswax to corner store competitor as its line of cosmetics—emblazoned with Shavitz’s mug on the logo—signaled natural purity even before that became a consumer craze.
Perhaps, a better analogue for the company Shavitz cofounded would be Tom’s of Maine, which made its name with a few quirky products (“all-natural” toothpaste) and eventually diversified to become a cross-aisle competitor. The only difference is that founders Tom and Kate Chappell got handsomely paid when the company was bought for $100 million by Colgate-Palmolive in 2006.
Shavitz was not so lucky. His cofounder, Roxanne Quimby, whom he partnered up with in the early 1980s, bought him out for $130,000 in 1999. Burt’s Bees was sold to Clorox for $970 million. (“Except for the fact that they’re from Clorox, they’re nice people,” he told The New Yorker’s Tad Friend.) Of Quimby’s portion, $173 million, Shavitz was given $4 million.