This story originally appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of NDNU Today.
Before Rich Boragno decided to get his MBA at NDNU (then College of Notre Dame), he expected to learn things that would be useful to him in his business life. He didn’t expect that one class would change the focus of his career and that another would prove to be a dry run for a real life assignment that would ultimately define his career.
Back up a few years. Boragno had been working as a stock broker since graduating from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 1994. While stock broker sounds like a glamorous calling, it really means you’re a salesman and most of the calls you make are of the cold variety, picking up the phone and trying to sell securities to someone to whom you’ve never spoken before.
“After a few years I figured cold calling wasn’t my forte so I decided to become a ski bum for a winter,” he says with a chuckle, recalling the short break he took at Mammoth Mountain while he figured out what he wanted to do with his life. “I decided I still wanted to be in investments but more in portfolio management.” That led to several years working as a portfolio analyst at Wells Fargo and a smaller firm in Palo Alto. That experience convinced him that he needed to get his MBA.
“It was either MBA or CFA and I thought getting an MBA would just open up more doors in case I ever wanted to get out of investments. So I went to NDNU — College of Notre Dame at the time — and it was a great program for people who were professionals working 60 hours a week and going right to class after work. It was a pretty intensive two and a half years of my life,” he recalls.
During the course of his studies, Boragno took a corporate finance class taught by Clifford Wallace, a Silicon Valley banker, which probably changed the course of his business life.
“His class was great; he broke down the balance sheet and the cash flows made it really tangible from a financial perspective,” Boragno recalls. “So after that I was thinking, ‘well you know I want to work with something tangible, a product,’ and I made the switch to corporate finance.”
When he graduated, a close friend, Myles McCormick ’98, another NDNU MBA alumnus, helped find him a job as a financial analyst “so I could learn the ropes.” He learned them well enough to be able to make a leap a couple of years later to a small, relatively young company that was making a name for itself by selling a quality product and doing things differently, Clif Bar & Company. Founded in 1992, the company makes the CLIF Bar and other nutritious and organic foods, popular with cyclists, climbers and other active people. The company needed someone to create a new finance group, a very significant responsibility, which appealed to him. But it was the company’s business model, built on what it calls the Five Aspirations — Sustaining our Business, our Brands, our People, our Community and our Planet — that really attracted Boragno.
“At the time we only had an accounting group but there wasn’t any financial analysis or planning or budgeting or reporting. That was something the company needed to help drive decision making,” he says. “So, one, I could build the finance group from the ground up and have a lot of exposure and, two, I was an avid skier at the time and an aspiring cyclist and just really wanted to get behind the product I was working for.”
He didn’t know it at the time but there was another lesson he’d learned while at NDNU — in his capstone course, where he created a business plan for a winery startup — that would prove even more valuable than the corporate finance course. “I just remember it was very intensive. I wished I had more time to do it because it was really fun. I was envious of some of the other students who didn’t have full-time jobs. It really taught you to get your hands dirty, to get into the numbers and translate the reality of the business plan to the finance plan, bring it all together and present it in a package,” he says.
That experience gave him most of the tools he would need to help save his company, just two years later. “That business class was in 1998 and then in 2000 there was one day when the CEO brought me in and said, ‘I’ve got two bombs to drop on you. One, the company is being sold and two, your boss is no longer here. I need you to help me sell the company.’”
He credits the skills he acquired in that capstone project for seeing him through what proved to be a very demanding time. “It was great training because I’ve had to do that at Clif many times. The training from the capstone course helped me translate a financial plan to strategic buyers and numerous bankers over the years.”
“It was one of those (situations) where you’re anxious, and excited, but you’re also a little fearful. But I saw it as an opportunity for me to do something (important) so I said I’m just going to do it.”
Ultimately the owners decided not to sell and Clif Bar not only remained independent, but also became one of the fastest growing companies in the area with a compound annual growth rate of 17 percent. Boragno is proud of the company’s growth and what he’s done to contribute to it, primarily the team he’s built and his 2007 promotion to chief financial officer (CFO).
“It’s been great. I feel like I’m a homegrown leader at Clif and I mesh well with people who are coming in from the Quaker’s of the world and the Pepsi’s and Diageo’s.”
Another source of great satisfaction is the role he played in creating the company’s employee stock ownership plan. “Other than all the debt recapitalizations which have been great to keep the company private – is the ESOP we installed in 2010. Installing an ESOP is a very complex transaction. It’s an emotional transaction for the shareholders and the people who are receiving the ESOP benefit.”
“I’ve been very lucky,” says Boragno, who lives in Castro Valley with his wife Manette and two children. “Opportunities have come along at just the right time in my life.” And he was well prepared for them!