Seventh Generation’s new CEO: John Replogle

Seventh Generation, the pioneer of the “green cleaning” industry, needs to become more stylish and innovative in order to grow.

So says John Replogle, the former chief executive of Burt’s Bees who was named CEO of Seventh Gen last week.

“We makes the best products in the market,” Replogle said. But the competition is intense, from companies like Procter & Gamble, SCJohnson, Method and Clorox’s GreenWorks.

To grow, Seventh Gen will need to update its tired packaging and continually improve its offerings, Replogle told me when we spoke by phone last week.

“We are going to out-innovate the competition in terms of meeting consumers’ needs in an environmentally-friendly way,” he said.

This means changes are coming to the Burlington, Vt-based firm. In a press release, Peter Graham, the company’s board chairman, said that Replogle’s job is

to ensure that Seventh Generation’s untapped growth potential [emphasis added] is fully realized in the years ahead, both financially and in our continued efforts to make our world a safer place for our children and the next seven generations.

Replogle, who is 45, is an interesting choice to lead Seventh Gen. His first job will be to bring some stability to the company, which was led by for many years by co-founder Jeffrey Hollender and then, for less than two years, by former PepsiCo executive Chuck Maniscalco. (For background, see Seventh Generation out its founder and  Seventh Generation: Not Coming Clean.) Said Replogle: “There’s a real need for leadership.”

In five years at Burt’s Bees, Replogle did well. He joined the privately-held firm in January 2006, and it was sold less than two years later to Clorox for $925 million. This year, Clorox’s CEO Don Knauss conceded that the company had “paid too much for it” after writing down the value of the company by a hefty $258 million. Of course, this means that Replogle made an excellent deal for Burt’s Bees shareholders. What’s more, Burt’s Bees remains the fastest-growing division of Clorox.

Whether this means that Seventh Generation’s future lies in an acquisition by a bigger firm is, of course, impossible to say.

Before joining Burt’s Bees, Replogle ran the skin care division of Unilever North America for three years and spent eight years as an executive of Diageo, overseeing its Guinness business. A graduate of Dartmouth and Harvard Business School, he’s a father of four who, for now, will keep his family home in Raleigh, N.C., and commute to Vermont.

Replogle made a point during our interview of praising Jeffrey Hollender’s leadership at 7G. “I’ve been inspired by Jeffrey and his vision and what he stands for,” Replogle said. Interestingly, Replogle was approached for the CEO job two years ago when Maniscalco was hired but said “at that point, I wasn’t ready.”

He noted that Seventh Generation has one clear advantage over most of its competitors–including Clorox–in the green cleaning arena: All of its products are environmentally friendly.

Replogle said: “This is the core of what we do. We don’t do it any other way. We are authentic. We are original. We are transparent. And consumers get that.”

The CEO of another green brand described Replogle to me in an email as “super smart, approachable and the right combo of green + making a business operate profitably.” We will soon see.

Comments

  1. Marc, I really enjoy your work and usually agree with your point of view. But in this case, why do you glorify a guy for taking over a great ‘small’ company (Burt’s Bees) and in a few short years, selling out to a corporate behemoth, in the process creating some phantom wealth (the difference between the real value and the price paid) by effectively misleading the buyer about the value of the company? Now I’m guessing it will only be a matter of time before 7th Gen is swallowed up by P&G or SCJ…

  2. Pete, you raise a good question here but it’s the job of the CEO of a company selling itself to maximize value for his shareholders. Anything less would be a breach of his fiduciary duty. Chances are since the sale was late 2007 that the valuation was depressed afterward by the economic downturn.

    Whether or not it’s a good thing for small challenger brands to sell to bu global companies is a more complicated question, for another day. I’ve heard different answers to that questions from people at Stonyfield Farm, Honest Tea, Ben & Jerry, some of which ended well, some not so.

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