A deal with teeth
by David Whitford, FSB Magazine

(FORTUNE Small Business Magazine) - You've just sold 84% of your company to Colgate-Palmolive (Research) for $100 million. How to tell your staff? If you're Tom and Kate Chappell, co-founders of all-natural-toothpaste maker Tom's of Maine, you convene an 8 a.m. meeting for all 170 employees at the Kennebunk, Maine, community center.

You read a poem by Emily Dickinson, "Hope Is a Thing With Feathers." Then you do it. "There was a collective intake of breath," says Kate, 60, "and a sigh of relief when they understood what the components of the deal were." Among the highlights: no job transfers out of Maine, and a total of $1.2 million in loyalty bonuses. Tom will stay on for five years (three as CEO), while Kate gets a consulting contract.

But can tiny Tom's fulfill its destiny - "to become the trusted partner in natural-care products with the natural-care customer around commonly held values" is how Tom, 63, explains it--now that it's part of an $11-billion-a-year consumer products colossus? "The people [at Colgate] are incredibly smart and caring human beings," Tom says. "We think we have something to impart to one another." Top of page

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