Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are the men behind one of the most talked-about and least conventional success stories in American business. Founders of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc., they built a store-front venture into a $300 million ice cream empire by harnessing the power of social responsibility and creative management.
Born just four days apart, Ben and Jerry met during junior high and remained close through their years at Calhoun High in Merrick, NY. After college and various odd jobs, the two reunited in 1977 to fulfill a dream they both shared: running a food business. Settling on an ice cream proved to be the winning formula. One year and a $5 Penn State correspondence course in ice cream making later, they opened their first Ben & Jerry’s Homemade ice cream parlor in Burlington, VT.
The duo soon became known throughout Vermont for rich, unusual flavors and a community-oriented approach to business, whereby good will, good times and good ice cream were shared through a variety of events, such as an autumn “Fall Down” Festival, a free outdoor movie festival and celebrating their anniversary with Free Cone Days. As the company grew, Ben’s jobs included scooper and taste-tester, truck driver, marketing director, salesperson and president. Jerry began by making all the ice cream, but as the company expanded into new markets, he soon found himself handling everything from distribution to orientation to employee motivation.
With their best-selling Ben & Jerry’s Double-Dip: How to Run a Values Led Business and Make Money Too, they created a nuts-and-bolts guidebook to the promise and pitfalls of “values-led” business, as well as an inspiring wake-up call about the growing international influence of the “socially conscious” or “mission driven” corporation.
Ben and Jerry realize that by definition, the manufacturing of products creates waste. As they expand into Europe and Asia, Ben and Jerry remain conscious of their impact on the environment and believe it’s possible to be profitable and environmentally responsible. To that end, Ben & Jerry’s is a leader in researching and implementing sustainable dairy farming practices, new thermoacoustic refrigeration techniques, using alternate energy sources, waste reduction and recycling, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and is a member of the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES).
A model for modern American corporate responsibility and business success, Ben and Jerry have been recognized for fostering commitment to social responsibility by the Council on Economic Priorities, which awarded them the Corporate Giving Award in 1988 (for donating 7.5 percent of pre-tax profits to non-profit organizations); and by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which named them U.S. Small Business Persons of the Year in 1988 in a White House ceremony hosted by President Reagan. Ben and Jerry since have been named James Beard Humanitarians of the Year and the Peace Museum’s Community Peacemakers of the Year.
Bringing all of this to life at the lecture podium, Ben and Jerry’s presentation is a rousing tribute to America’s entrepreneurial spirit, full of hilarious anecdotes and radical business philosophy—and comes complete with servings of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for the entire audience.