The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Meet Burt’s Bees co-founder — a passive-aggressive Zen master who missed out on $970 million

Burt Shavitz pauses during an interview to watch a litter of foxes play near his camp in Parkman, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Sometimes, those who put sweat equity into an enterprise miss out on some of the glory.

Consider: Friedrich Engels. Pete Best. Art Garfunkel. Brian Jones. Steve Wozniak. Big Boi.

And Burt Shavitz.

Shavitz — the bearded hippie whose face adorns Burt’s Bees lip stuff — co-founded the company in 1984. In 1999, he sold his half to his co-founder for about $130,000.

In 2007, Clorox bought the company for $970 million. Roxanne Quimby, Shavitz’s former partner in business and love, got $173 million — and threw just $4 million Shavitz’s way.

Last month, “Burt’s Buzz,” a documentary about Shavitz, went live. Since then, the 79-year-old has made the rounds, appearing in outlets from the New Yorker to the New York Times.

But depictions of Shavitz show a man conflicted — a bitter Zen master and spurned lover burned by a three-decade-old business deal gone bad.

“In the long run, I got the land, and land is everything,” he told a filmmaker in the documentary. “Money is nothing really worth squabbling about. This is what puts people six feet under. You know, I don’t need it.”

Then, explaining his relationship with Quimby to the New Yorker: “I haven’t spoken to her in quite a while, and I don’t care if I never do.”

But: “She was man-hungry, and she and I, by spells, fed the hunger.”

Yet: ” “Roxanne Quimby wanted money and power, and I was just a pillar on the way to that success.”

Then, to the Associated Press: “What I have in this situation is no regret,” he said, sitting in a rocking chair. “The bottom line is she’s got her world and I’ve got mine, and we let it go at that.”

What about life after Quimby?

In an interview with the New Yorker, Shavitz said, “I’ve got everything I need: a nice piece of land with hawks and owls and incredible sunsets, and the good will of my neighbors.”

Still, he told the Times: “I’d still be keeping bees if I didn’t have a bad back. You can only punish your body so long before you’re stuck with a horrendous inability to do things you’d previously been able to do.”

Does he use his own products?

“No,” he told the New Yorker. Then, he walked that back: “Well, as needed.”

In the New Yorker, Shavitz also offered the most backhanded compliment ever paid an American corporation.

“Except for the fact that they’re from Clorox, they’re nice people,” he said.

Here’s the documentary trailer: