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Former gas station owner and J.C. Penney manager who became a millionaire after 50 dies at 94, leaving his company to employees



Bob Moore, founder of the Bob’s Red Mill brand known for its whole grain products and benevolence towards employees, died on Saturday at 94.

Moore proved it’s never too late to follow your dreams: He was 49 when he started Bob’s Red Mill, coming off careers as a gas station owner and store manager at a J.C. Penney. In fact, he came out of early retirement to do it, after the devoutly religious Moore had committed himself to bible study (he specifically wanted to learn the bible in Hebrew and Koine Greek) before getting restless and buying and restoring the iconic red mill building that would change the life of his family—and so many others.

While Moore did not elaborate on his net worth, including in an interview with Fortune two years ago, he was almost certainly a millionaire. Bob’s Red Mill was estimated to have over $100 million in revenue as of 2018, according to Forbes. His company, which proudly touts the health benefits of whole grains, now sells over 200 products in more than 70 countries. And true to his values, Moore had already left his company to his employees years ago, so they can share in the fruits of their labor. 

Bob’s Red Mill was “an absolute dream come true,” he told Forbes in 2018, while he subsequently told Fortune that he loved the company so much he would never sell it. He resisted so many overtures, he said, “They thought I was just a lame-brained idiot because I didn’t want to sell my company. They told me how stupid I was, but you can’t build what I’ve built and be really stupid.”

The business was successful as soon as it opened its doors, but Moore took an unconventional approach to dealing with an influx of cash. On his 81st birthday, in 2010, Moore established an employee stock ownership plan for his 209 employees. The company grew to 700 employees and was 100% employee owned as of April 2020.

Moore told Fortune that he wanted to avoid most of the company models where owners and managers prioritize their own profit above workers.

“I learned almost 70 years ago how integral hard work and kindness is to success,” Moore said. “As our small business grew, I realized I had a great opportunity for generosity. My favorite bible scripture, Matthew 7:12, says do unto others what you’d want them to do unto you. That’s something I think we should all live by.”

Moore’s business philosophy was almost as wholesome as the ingredients he was selling. Moore called whole grains “God’s Gift.”

The philosophy of Bob’s Red Mill, Moore explained in a 2017 Oregon State University oral history, was to return the simplicity of processing grains: milling the product without removing bran or germ.

“The industry, grain industry, has for a century or more now had the sense that they had to take stuff out of it, and they have done just that,” Moore said. “In most cases they’ve devalued it by taking the bran out or the germ, partly because these parts of the grain spoil, cut the shelf life, and I don’t do that.”

From warehouses to gas stations to goat farms to J.C. Penney

Moore had over 30 years of experience running a business before starting Bob’s Red Mill. Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1929, Moore took a warehouse job at May Company department store in Los Angeles as World War II waned and became manager of his own department there by age 16.

After serving in the Army for three years, Moore yearned to have his own business. He and his wife Charlee Moore sold their Los Angeles home and bought a Mobil gas station for $6,000. 

Over the next six years, the couple navigated financial hardships. To escape the busy city, they sold their first gas station and moved to Mammoth Lakes, California, where they owned a second gas station — which was destroyed in an anomalous 14-foot snowfall — only to move again to Sacramento. Moore rented a five-acre goat farm there, where his wife planted seeds in her garden and the seed for the couple’s eventual business: She baked whole wheat bread frequently, believing her family deserved nutritious food.

Bob’s Red Mill didn’t take form until several years later, when Moore read “John Goffe’s Mill” by George Woodbury, a story of a man who restored his family’s grain mill, in 1968. At the time, Moore was the manager of a J.C. Penney auto store in Redding, California. Charmed by the story, Moore began sourcing 19th century millstones and setting up an operational mill on the outskirts of town. So this was a milling/grain business, but it wasn’t the milling/grain business that would transform their lives. As Moore put it in the Oregon State University oral history, “We did not expect to stay in the milling business, which we had been in with the boys down in Redding. We expected to go to seminary, and we were doing fine.”

Moore and his wife ultimately retired to Milwaukie, Oregon, and he joined a seminary school to fulfill his lifelong dream of learning the Bible in different languages. By happenstance, as the couple was studying Greek flashcards, they stumbled upon a mill for sale. Bob’s Red Mill took its now-recognizable form in 1978, and the rest was history.

Though Moore retired in 2018, he remained a board member of the company until his death. After a lifetime of twists, turns, ups, and downs, Moore said his secret was always following his true north. 

“I’ve traveled all over the world. I have a lovely home. I’ve been successful. I haven’t squandered my money,” he told Fortune. “It’s a wonderful pleasure to have enough to do these things, but here’s the thing: You need to have a purpose.”

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