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Can't decide on the right career? Take a lesson from out entrepreneur Lisa Thomas: She built Clif Bar into a huge business, produced a Grammy-winning CD, and is just getting started

When you contact Lisa Thomas in Berkeley, Calif., you know you'll be speaking to a highly successful entrepreneur. But which Lisa Thomas will come to the phone? The cofounder and former CEO of Clif Bar Inc., who built a multimillion-dollar business in little more than a decade? The record producer, whose compilation Sacred Ground just won a 2005 Grammy? How about Lisa Thomas of Hi-Fli Records, whose first release, Spin This by jazz vocalist Karen Blixt, is already chart-bound? Or film producer Lisa Thomas, whose award-winning documentary Homeland marked the start of a new career making films that matter?

Laughing, Thomas admits to it all, plus the joys and demands of her 22-year life partnership with Susan Swanson. Oh, and she's learning a new business. With artisan Allen Perkins, Thomas just founded Berkeley-based Spiral Groove to make high-end turntables that she envisions as "an audiophile's dream. Allen's the designer, I'm the engineer, it's his brainchild. I'm enjoying lending my expertise to his process, and I'm enjoying learning."

A passion for learning goes a long way toward explaining Thomas's off-the-charts success. Take the Clif Bar story. In 1986 the New England native was a San Francisco Bay area transplant who didn't know the business end of an oven when cyclist Gary Erickson convinced her to start a bakery. "I barely knew anything about business," Thomas says. "I was learning bookkeeping at that time, working at a foundry."

Anybody who's read a Clif Bar wrapper knows that Erickson had just endured a 175-mile bike ride with nothing to eat but Power Bars and nothing to contemplate besides how much he disliked them. "It was all about good taste," says Thomas. That--and hard work. "Gary still had a day job; I spent hours every week at his mother's house, learning the basics of baking. She laughs and tells people she taught me how to boil water."

Erickson was the face of Clif Bar; Thomas ran operations, developing her skills and her vision. She describes those early years as "business boot camp. It was still a teeny little market.... Maybe the energy bar market was doing $3 million that year. In 2000, when I left, it was maybe $600 million."

In 1998, Ernst & Young named Lisa Thomas Entrepreneur of the Year in San Francisco. By 1999--the year food industry giants Kraft and Nestle bought up Clif Bar's competitors--Thomas figured it was time to let go. In 2002 she opted to leave the company, selling her shares for a reported $62 million.

At that point, Thomas felt she wanted to give back. "I wasn't looking for another business to get into," she says. "I do personally wrestle with the idea of the capitalistic model. It can never really be equitable. I wrestled with it as I became wealthy."

She says it didn't take more than 20 minutes after she met out TV producer Roberta Grossman to identify her next long-term partner, this time in the film business. Grossman's documentary project, a profile of four Native American environmental activists to be called Homeland, had little prospect of commercial funding. But it had one big thing going for it: One of the Native Americans Grossman wanted to profile was Thomas's brother-in-law.

"Lisa believed in the project enough to fund it at a level where it could transcend TV and be a feature documentary," says Grossman. "She wanted it to be beautiful." And by all accounts, it is. Homeland is in distribution internationally and has aired on 30 PBS stations nationwide. The companion album, Sacred Ground, won a Grammy for Best Native American Album.

These days Thomas helms the Katahdin Foundation, which grants seed money, with Hollywood production offices managed by Grossman and a slate of projects in development. And Thomas will likely produce more music too. But she's clear on what comes first. "My main focus is on promoting my foundation," Thomas says. "If the record label does great, that's fantastic; if my real estate business does great, that's fantastic too. Ditto the turntable business. It will add capital to my foundation."

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