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Two Scoops of Responsibility
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Jerry Greenfield

      . . . is the cofounder and vice-chairperson of the board of Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc. Jerry and Ben (Ben Cohen, Jerry's best friend,) started their multimillion dollar international company in 1978, in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont. In addition to making and serving great ice cream, they believe business can be a powerful force for positive social change. Jerry and Ben's book, Ben & Jerry's Double-Dip: Lead with Your Values and Make Money, Too, is rich in untraditional (and mostly successful ) ways to build and run a new kind of business.

Excerpts3:35 secs

      Here's a sweet deal. Imagine a business that's profitable, produces a high quality product, is a socially responsible part of the community locally and globally, and has fun in the process. Imagine Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.

      Jerry Greenfield and his best friend, Ben Cohen, really did start Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc. as a little ice cream parlor in a made-over gas station in Burlington, Vermont. (Think ice cream to Eskimos.) Twenty plus years later, Ben & Jerry's is a publicly held, $200 million international business. Whether delivered by the scoop or by the pint, that's a lot of ice cream. And yogurt. And sorbet.

      Jerry (and Ben) now are hard at work, eager to institutionalize the core values that motivated them to go into business in the first place. Whatever the flavor, their most important "toppings" are the progressive social values which the entire Ben & Jerry's team is working to integrate into their day to day business decisions. And it's not easy.

      Where does one put the proverbial oar in the water when you're trying to run a different kind of business? At the top. Jerry and Ben share an agenda, a commitment to using the power of business to make the world a better place. And they trust each other.

      Ben & Jerry's has a reputation for the non-traditional, from advertising to selecting a CEO, to their commitment to reaching out to be inclusive in their supply chain as well as employee body and Board of Directors. Even their shareholders are noteworthy. Sure, some come to the annual meeting for the free ice cream. But they also show up so their voices can be heard with questions and comments which drive Ben & Jerry's to be ever more activist and socially aware...without abandoning the bottom line.

      Customers all over the world respond to Ben & Jerry's outrageous flavors, chewy-chunky-crunchy textures, wacky packaging and amusing names (who can resist Chubby Hubby, Cherry Garcia or Phish Food?) People also like Ben & Jerry's involvement in community activities. Is anyone surprised that genuine human interaction is more effective bringing producer and consumer together than traditional mass media advertising?

      Ben & Jerry's is one of a growing number of businesses that accepts the reality that business is a major force in today's world. Jerry and Ben and their 700 employees are leading the way, working to put values first in the day to day business of business, finding ways to serve the community, and taking increasing responsibility for dealing with what they create. And they're working hard to live up to their own motto -- "If it's not fun, why do it?"

Conversation 1

Jerry Greenfield tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell about how Ben & Jerry's works to figure out a different way of doing business, one where social values lead business decisions. Jerry talks about ways to integrate progressive social values into the day-to-day business decisions of a $200 million business, while being profitable.


Conversation 2

Jerry describes ice cream as the vehicle by which Ben & Jerry's works toward its social mission. That social mission, in turn, directly contributes to Ben & Jerry's financial success. Jerry describes how difficult it is to measure bottom line profitability while running a business that looks beyond the consumer product it produces. He explains the difference between traditional advertising and the Ben & Jerry's approach to attracting customers. Jerry remembers how he and Ben codified the importance of being genuine and gives examples of the resulting high quality customer interactions which benefit the community and, ultimately, also promote the sale of more ice cream. Jerry demonstrates how living by values and making money do not have to be competing interests. Jerry explains how fundamental trust is to his and Ben's relationship.


Conversation 3

Jerry explains the importance of people's growing eagerness for the "genuine" in business, confident that not all consumers are satisfied with today's big, nameless, faceless corporations whose sole mission is to maximize profits. He suggests a role for meaning and spirituality in the marketplace and in business. Jerry suggests that today's mainstream business model is not designed for the greater good and he offers an alternative vision. He describes what it takes to balance the interests of shareholders, employees, the board of directors and customers. He tells why one must start thinking about social components at the beginning of making business decisions. He assures us this way of approaching business is complex, but has the potential of enormous benefits. Jerry explains why Ben and he chose to lead with their values, confident that doing so does not have to cost a business money in the long term. He describes the challenge of hiring people who share his and Ben's vision.


Conversation 4

Jerry remembers how he and Ben (improbably) picked Burlington, Vermont, as the location for the original Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor. Jerry gives away the secret of why Ben & Jerry's flavors are so outrageous and the textures so chunky. He describes the ways in which Ben & Jerry's is conventional and how they have chosen to do business differently, using their strong management team as one example. Jerry describes how he and Ben have been working to ensure that the company they founded is not personality-driving, that it institutionalizes their core values. Jerry describes some of the growing number of businesses which are integrating their values with social concerns.


Conversation 5

The willingness to innovate, Jerry continues, involves the assurance that there will be failures. He gives an idea of how one can learn from those failures in running a business, comparing it to new product development. He describes the roller coaster of media attention Ben & Jerry's has received and explains how he and Ben expected from the beginning to be criticized. Jerry notes he and Ben put their ideas into a book so that others might learn both from Ben & Jerry's successes and its failures. Jerry makes a strong case for the business imperative to include a wide range of different kinds of people throughout an organization, certain it is good business decision.


Conversation 6

Pointing to the 700 people who work at Ben & Jerry's, Jerry jokes that it's his job to accept credit for the work other people do.  He makes a bow toward his dedicated employee body. He describes and gives examples of how Ben & Jerry's stockholders continue to push the company to be even more activist and more socially aware. Jerry concludes with a description of how challenging and rewarding he finds it to have motivating work, work focused on trying to help his company find ways to increase Ben & Jerry's role in the community. He reminds us of the central role business plays in our society and notes how vital it is for businesses to take full responsibility for everything they create.


Acknowledgements

Lee Holder went to great lengths to help arrange our visit with Jerry. We appreciate his considerable efforts on our behalf.

Related Links:
Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.
Ben & Jerry's Double Dip: Lead with Your Values and Make Money, Too is published by Simon & Schuster.
You can find out more about other companies who belong to the Social Venture Network.

Other, related organizations focused on business and social responsibility are:

Business for Social Responsibility
Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies.
The Calvert Group pioneered the concept of socially responsible investing.


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