B-Corp Series: Sam Mogannam

by | July 15, 2019

When I talk about ways to make decision-making more inclusive, I’ve noticed that people either perk-up…or look overwhelmed. But the leaders who always want to talk about decision-making are B-Corp executives. B-Corp executives are a special breed.

Why? B-Corp certification for your for-profit company requires you to go through an assessment that measures how you operate with respect to your people, your partnerships, and
your impact on the planet.

B-Corp executives are a special breed.

B-Corp executives are attuned to the people in their companies. And they’re attuned to the decisions they make, because they’ve had to look carefully at the ways their choices create a net social impact. Attunement is “baked into” being awarded a B-Corp certification.

They’re attuned to the decisions they make, because they’ve had to look carefully at the ways their choices create a net social impact.

B-Corp executives are the cohort of people who are leading the way by being conscious about their decision-making cultures.

And I thought you should meet a few of them:


Sam Mogannam
Founder, Bi-Rite Family of Businesses
San Francisco, CA

“Would you like lunch?” Sam said this immediately upon meeting me. He shook my hand and said, “we have lunch ready, are you sure you don’t want to eat?” Sam Mogannam is a man who cares that you to have something good to eat.

And as a result, he leads the Bi-Rite Family of Businesses, one of San Francisco’s most iconic food companies. The Bi-Rite Family of Businesses include two specialty grocery stores, an ice cream shop, a café and a catering company in San Francisco, plus a 3-acre farm in Sonoma, and employs 350 staff members. In 2020, they hope to add another market to the mix.

Bi-Rite is unique. It isn’t just a grocery. It’s a grocery and a place where you can feel hosted, nourished and catered to—like you are a part of something special. Bi-Rite was started in 1964 by Ned Mogannam (Sam’s father) and his brother Jack. Sam and his siblings grew up working in the market at a very young age. But when his father and uncle wanted to retire, Sam didn’t willingly come on board. They ended up selling the business and it was out of the family for nine years while Sam pursued his passion for restaurants. Fortunately, Sam and his younger brother Ralph had the opportunity to buy back the business in 1997 and that is when the transformation of the bodega began.

Sam’s vision for the family business was different. If he were to lead it, Sam’s grocery would need to have a kitchen, and food would have to be cooked there. He wanted the market to be a “chef’s market,” a place where chefs could go to buy food, and people could come to eat food worthy of a chef. He wanted a gathering spot where people could learn and share their love of good food.

Says Sam, “As a leader, all my experience in the restaurant business paid off. I didn’t know how much a difference it would make…but it did, because I understand hard work and the true nature of hospitality.”

“At Bi-Rite, we are in the food business and the hospitality business; we grew slowly so we could get this right. We are a family business—a group of people who actually care about each other—and we want it to always feel that way.”

As a thriving business that has managed to keep its family values for 21 years, Bi-Rite’s mission is to Create Community Through Food. The staff state its three core values clearly: lead with love, pursue with passion, act with integrity. This is reflected in big decisions and small ones.

Every week, at senior staff meetings, his leaders report on the “health” of the business from an operational perspective and a values perspective. They do a reflection on living the values, and share stories about how staff helped each member of their community. They actively talk about how their values are being expressed in their business decisions and their daily interactions.

And Sam himself works with frontline people in the stores coaching employees and reinforcing the vision. He talks about the values, reflects on stories, asks how he can help. He has even terminated vendors and staff that didn’t act in accordance with the Bi-Rite values.

Says Sam, “Leaders feel they are too busy to do anything extra. But if you spend even just 10% of your time coaching people on how you want them to lead…you’ll get so much leverage…because the people you collaborate with will be aligned with the values and the vision, and will work hard on achieving it together.”

Mobilize Your Vision™

Mobilize Your Vision™

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