‘Jerry’ dishes up details of his ice cream’s success

Jerry Greenfield first articulated the query, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” 25 years ago to commemorate the one-year anniversary of a small ice cream parlor run out of a renovated gas station. Little did he know the saying was to become the hallmark of a multi-billion dollar business.

“I had no idea that this quote would eventually be so representative of what our company would try to be,” Greenfield said.

Greenfield told over 100 students at a Silliman College Master’s Tea Tuesday about his endeavors with business partner Ben Cohen to transform their brainchild — Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream — from a trademark of Burlington, Vt., to an international corporation.

Greenfield and Cohen, who first met in a seventh grade gym class in Brooklyn, N.Y., were initially concerned with the growth of their business solely because they viewed its success as a means to survive, Greenfield said.

“We had no long-term vision of making a good business,” he said.

But within a few years, the business had begun to expand and prosper, which Greenfield said led to some self-analysis.

“Ben and I looked at ourselves and realized that we were no longer ice cream guys — we were business people, spending our time with lawyers instead of scooping ice cream,” he said.

Greenfield said he and Cohen used their negative perceptions of business — that businesses exploit communities, damage the environment and treat employees poorly — as guidelines about what not to do in directing the course of their own venture.

“We’ve tried to integrate social and environmental concerns into the daily business of our company,” Greenfield said.

Greenfield enumerated the many social projects to which Ben & Jerry’s is dedicated, including about a dozen “partner shops” that are independently run and owned by nonprofit organizations. All proceeds from these shops go toward funding the nonprofit organizations, which span such causes as helping at-risk youths and providing job training for the underprivileged, he said.

“We are a company that has tried and succeeded to be led by values instead of just earning money,” Greenfield said.

But he expressed his doubts that Unilever, the multinational conglomerate he and Cohen sold their company to in 2000, will be able to uphold such an idealistic business philosophy.

“[Unilever] views our company’s success as the result of making money and doing good things with extra money, which is a very different notion of business from ours,” he said.

Greenfield emphasized that selling the company was always against his and Cohen’s wishes.

“But in the end, we determined that the company would be better off being sold. It came down to keeping jobs for people,” he said.

Students who attended the talk seemed optimistic that the values Ben & Jerry’s promotes will continue to be upheld — if not by the business itself, then by those who are influenced by the company’s unique business philosophy.

“It was really refreshing to hear about a business that’s concerned with social goals, especially since a lot of people [at Yale] are going into business,” Gwen McDay ’05 said.

Linda Shi ’04 concurred.

“I find businesses like Ben & Jerry’s inspiring,” she said. “They’ve demonstrated that it’s possible for a business to have morals.”

Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream co-founder Jerry Greenfield (left) chats with students after a Silliman College Master's Tea Tuesday. Greenfield discussed the evolution of his now-booming business.
Cody Dashiell-Earp
Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream co-founder Jerry Greenfield (left) chats with students after a Silliman College Master's Tea Tuesday. Greenfield discussed the evolution of his now-booming business.

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