Early Details Emerge About Ouster of Seventh Generation's Founder

[Editor's note: This is an altered version reflecting that outgoing CEO Chuck Maniscalco is considering staying on at Seventh Generation.]

Here’s some sad and shocking news: Jeffrey Hollender, the pioneering co-founder and longtime CEO of Seventh Generation, has been forced out of the company.

Details on what happened and why are scant -- I hope to tell you more, before long -- but Jeff has told friends that his ouster came as a surprise. It evidently followed months of tension with his board and with Chuck Maniscalco, the former senior exec at PepsiCo who was brought on as CEO of Seventh Generation in June 2009.

Maniscalco, who previously ran the Quaker, Tropicana and Gatorade businesses at PepsiCo, resigned as CEO in September. But he remained on to manage a transition and is now considering staying at the company, according to a letter to Seventh Generation shareholders and employees from Peter Graham, the company’s board chairman. The letter -- dated October 26 -- said that the board has “reluctantly voted” to put Hollender on leave of absence from the company and remove him from the board.

The board action “came as a surprise to me,” Jeff told a friend, via email. “My sincere hope and intent was to have resolved these issues with the company.”

I emailed Jeff today, requesting an interview.

“Not much I can say,” he wrote back. He did share with me the company announcement and an email he sent out, both of which are pasted below.

Seventh Generation, as most of you know, is a leader in the “green” household products arena. It makes green cleaners, laundry detergent, dishwashing soap, diapers, baby wipes, tampons, recycled toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels. As a private company (though it was publicly traded for a time), Seventh Generation doesn’t report sales or earnings. In a June 2009 blogpost, Jeff said the company had sales of about $150 million. The board hired Maniscalco to drive sales to $1 billion. (See: A new CEO for Seventh Generation)

Jeff’s impact has been felt far beyond the walls of Seventh Generation, which is based in Burlington, Vt. He’s co-author of an excellent book, What Matters Most, about the corporate responsibility movement. He speaks frequently about business and sustainability, and has been politically active on behalf of climate change, among other issues. He sits on the board of Greenpeace USA. He recently formed a joint venture with the Kaplan education company called the Sustainability Institute. His Inspired Protagonist blog is a model of corporate transparency.

Speaking of transparency … there’s not a word (as of Monday Nov. 1) on the Seventh Generation website about his departure.

Interestingly, Peter Graham, the board chairman, is a childhood friend of Jeff’s. They attended Riverdale Country Day School together and several years ago traveled to India. It’s not clear whether Graham backed Jeff in the power struggle at Seventh Generation, or turned against him. [Disclosure: My wife Karen Schneider went to high school with Jeff, who I've known for years, and Peter Graham, who I've never met.] Obviously there’s more to this story than we know; if any readers of this blog have insight, by all means, be in touch.

Next Page: Jeff Hollender's email about his departure.