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Freeman Magazine - Spring 2008


Turning Silk into gold

Entrepreneur Steve Demos is a firm believer that high profits don’t require sacrificing high principles, and he should know.

“We made $330 million for our feeble little attempt to change the world,” Demos told a Freeman School audience.

Demos, the co-founder and former president of White Wave, the nation’s leading manufacturer of soy products, talked about his career and his unique philosophy of business in a special presentation at the Freeman School on Nov. 12, 2007. The lecture was sponsored by the Tulane Entrepreneurs Association.

Demos founded White Wave in 1977 with the goal combining social values with business success. After years of marketing virtually every conceivable soy-based product, Demos struck gold in 1996 with a brilliant marketing concept: putting soy milk in refrigerated milk cartons. That concept — together with partnering with a conventional milk processor — put White Wave’s Silk brand soy milk on the dairy aisles of supermarkets across America. Silk became the nation’s top-selling white beverage, propelling White Wave to more than $400 million in annual sales.

In 2002, Demos sold White Wave to Dean Foods Inc. for $190 million. He remained with the company as head of its refrigerated products division until 2005, when he left the company.

Following the expiration of a non-compete agreement in 2007, Demos announced his latest venture, NextFoods, a company he founded to create and market foods with scientifically proven medical benefits.

Throughout his career, Demos has stressed the notion of right livelihood, which calls for grounding one’s business in moral or ethical beliefs and making all business decisions based on those founding principles. “Right livelihood means good for me, good for you and good for everything that touches it,” Demos said.

And Demos has backed up those words with actions. Following the sale of White Wave in 2002, Demos personally ensured that $15 million of the purchase price would go to the 100 or so rank-and-file employees who had been with the company for two years or more.

“Giving that money back was one of the highest moments we had in the business,” Demos said.

Last Updated 11/19/08

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