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When Alan Met Claude

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Comvita truly began back in 1975 in the unlikely meeting of a 25-year-old surfer hippie (Alan) and a 65-year-old beekeeping permaculturist (Claude). One had moxie, one had a lifetime of experience in the field, and both had a passion for connecting people with the healing goodness of nature. In honor of Father’s Day in the US, we sat down with Alan Bougen, now 69, to reflect on one of the most significant relationships in his life.

How did you meet Claude for the first time?


I first met Claude Stratford in 1975 in Paengaroa, New Zealand. Some good friends of mine had horses on their property and I saw they were using a product to treat a flesh wound on one of their horses legs. It was a product made with Manuka Honey. I had a few hives and had been looking to expand my business, so I wrote a letter to the address on the back of the label to learn more, and Claude wrote me back almost immediately. He was 65 years old and running a small beekeeping business out of his basement. I was 25 at the time and despite the large age difference, we resonated quite quickly with one another. He was kind of like a friendly grandparent, in a way. And yet, our philosophies were remarkably very, very similar. Within a half an hour of meeting, we decided to become business partners. It was an unlikely partnership but one that developed into a strong friendship and mentorship.

What was it like working with someone three times your age?


It was definitely a very unusual situation, I was going into business with someone older than my father. Even though the generational age gap proved its challenges, it never seemed to affect our friendship. Claude and I shared a very similar worldview. He and I would spend a lot of time talking through the real things about life–why we are here and what we should be trying to achieve while we’re on earth.

What did you learn from Claude?


I learned a lot from Claude but something in particular that sticks out to me was his spirit. Claude experienced a lot of failures in his lifetime but he was always able to pick himself up and keep moving. All problems were solvable to him. He was disciplined in his thinking and always remained positive. That was one thing I loved about Claude – he was a possibility-thinker and lived his life with the philosophy that problems are just challenges to overcome.

You started a family of your own in Comvita’s early years. Did you ever struggle to meet the demands of family life and running a business?


Yes, of course. Comvita was growing rapidly for many years so the demands on myself and my family were very intense, especially when my children were young. Claude’s family were grown and we were in different stages, so he was full speed ahead, 24/7. The only time he slowed down was a few hours on Sunday for church and I have it on very reliable authority that he often fell asleep during that time. For me, I needed to take breaks and holidays with my family from time to time. I needed to distance myself from Claude and the demands of Comvita to find normality. It was a difficult few years but I found a good balance. Trying to find balance in my life has always been important and one of the ways I did this was by surfing. I love to surf so I would sneak away every so often when the waves were nice and do that. I would also spend time outside in nature which helped clear my head.


Claude and Alan, though from two different worlds, shared a vision of improving people’s lives. With a great deal of passion and hardwork, the legacy that Claude left behind is still very much alive in Alan and in the heart of Comvita’s philosophy.


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