Congratulations to Joel Clark, chief executive officer at Kodiak Cakes. He was named one of the 2018 CEO of the Year honorees.
When Joel Clark was 8 years old, he was a fixture in the neighborhood, selling lunch sacks filled with his mother’s pancake mix to neighbors. “She always thought there was a market for more healthy products, but this was the ‘80s, and there were some but not as many,” Clark recalls.
When Clark was in college, his brother started Kodiak Cakes, but offered the reins to Clark a couple of years later. Surprised but interested, Clark jumped at the opportunity. The next 16 years would prove to be an exercise in grit as the company grew with agonizing slowness to its first million, and was bootstrapped every step of the way.
“That was a big, big challenge for me, just thinking, can I see it through, can I hang on long enough to see Kodiak Cakes off the ground,” he says. “I’m really grateful I did, and the last few years we finally started to see rapid growth.”
A turning point came in 2014, when the company got two major shots to the arm: an appearance on Shark Tank and the launch of the high-protein line of pancake mixes called Power Cakes. The former brought explosive new visibility, while the latter quickly became the No. 1 selling mix in the stores carrying it and made Kodiak Cakes the fastest-growing pancake mix company in the country.
While Clark knew he would relish the sense of entrepreneurship that comes with building a company, even amid highs and lows, he says he was surprised to find how much he has enjoyed leading the team that is growing the brand. “I used to think I would really dread being a manager of people. I used to be scared of that,” he says. “But it’s become one of the most fun parts of my job. I really love the people I work with and I really love building teams and thinking through how we want to build our culture at Kodiak Cakes, and that’s been a ton of fun for me.”
Cameron Smith, COO of Kodiak Cakes who has been with the company for nine years, says Clark’s willingness to get feedback from all levels and his obvious care for the people around him is the epitome of strong leadership and has helped Kodiak Cakes find success.
“Joel loves collaboration. He loves everyone’s ideas, everyone’s thoughts. Since the beginning, it’s been always about brainstorming. He’s never been a top-down leader,” says Smith.
The company continues to grow. Its frozen waffle line, launched last fall, has fast become a strong seller, and in some stores has even upended Eggo. Clark says his mother isn’t surprised. “I don’t think for one day she doubted this would work,” he says. “She’s been so supportive and believed in me and this company this whole time.”