September 27, 2005

Ice Cream Jerry Speaks

Print More

Ice cream lovers and social activists alike, gathered in Statler Auditorium yesterday in order to listen to Jerry Greenfield of the famous Ben and Jerry’s speak about entrepreneurship. Greenfield was brought here by Cornell Hillel and the Jewish Student Union, sponsored by David and Cheryl Einhorn ’91.

All proceeds from the event were donated to the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina.

When asked if starting a business had been a lifetime goal for him, Greenfield told The Sun, “No. Ben and I were much more interested in eating … many people, it turns out, stop eating when they’re not hungry. Ben and I never stopped.”

His lecture focused on the different ways that his company was able to stray away from the typical stereotype of ‘business’, and really give back to the community.

“There are a lot of people who are going into business who are frustrated,” Greenfield said. “The prevailing wisdom is that you can’t have a successful business and use it to help society as well. [People think] If you try to have a business that tries to give to the people, it takes away from your ability to be successful financially.”

After Greenfield’s partner, Ben Cohen, dropped out of a variety of colleges, and Greenfield got rejected from more than 20 medical schools, they decided to invest in a correspondence course on how to make ice cream. The course cost five dollars split between them.

“When Ben and I started, we didn’t really see ourselves as getting into business. We saw ourselves as Ice Cream makers.”

Greenfield spoke about Ben and Jerry’s history of giving back to communities. He told The Sun about one of the first actions they took in sending out their message through their ice cream.

“The first really interesting thing we did was when we came out with ice cream bars on a stick and called them ‘peace pops,'” he said.

“We used the packaging to talk about Cold War military expenses … peace through understanding activities. It was the first time the company combined using a product and a way to market the product to help address an issue.

“You might have noticed that we ended the Cold War. We take full credit for that,” he joked.

Greenfield explained his reconstructed business theory of the “double bottom line,” attempting to measure the success of the company not just in terms of financial numbers, but also through how much they could give back to the community.

As an example of how they were giving back, Greenfield cited a bakery in Yonkers called Grayson’s Bakery. The bakery does work with people who have suffered from substance abuse, or others in need of public housing. As a way to show that Ben and Jerry’s supported their cause, the brownies in the ice cream flavor “Chocolate Fudge Brownie” are all from this bakery. According to Greenfield, they spent over two million dollars on brownies from Grayson’s last year.

The first obstacle Greenfield ran into was when business men informed him that they could no longer carry their ice cream due to Haagen Daas’ fear of their competition. This galvanized Greenfield to start the “What’s the Dough Boy Afraid of?” campaign, aimed at the Pillsbury Corporation.

When most companies would turn to venture capitalists to invest in them as they expanded their business, Ben and Jerry’s decided to turn to their customers.

“We weren’t very interested [in venture capitalists],” Greenfield said. “If we were going to have a business we were going to have one that was consistent with our values.”

This led him and Cohen to ask Vermonters to buy stock in their company, starting at a $126 minimum. This alternative approach was extremely successful, raising over $750,000.

“One out of every 100 family’s in Vermont was a part owner of Ben and Jerry’s,” Greenfield said.

Greenfield also mentioned that Ben and Jerry’s no longer exists as an independent company. According to Greenfield, they were bought by Unilever about four years ago. Unilever, an Anglo – Dutch conglomerate which owns other products such as Ragu and Wishbone salad dressing, was deemed by Greenfield as an “interesting company.”

“They bought Slim Fast and Ben and Jerry’s on the same day,” he said.

Attendees enjoyed the event, even before they were served unlimited ice cream.

“I think this was a great success,” said Malka Benjamin ’07, Jewish Student Union co-chair of creative development. “We made the decision to not bring a comedian this year, but rather someone with a message. Jerry is very innovative and socially active. He sent a good message out,” She added that Hillel’s efforts toward Katrina relief were appropriate and in line with Ben and Jerry’s message.

Greenfield told The Sun, “what I would like them to take away is to learn from our experience that you can integrate social values right into a company.”

After the lecture, Hillel distributed free ice cream in Statler Atrium.

“Cornell’s Hillel and Jewish Student Union are here to provide an outlet for people to have fun and enjoy themselves,” said Alex Shapero ’06, Jewish Student Union chair. “What can be more fun than ice cream on a rainy day?”

Archived article by Emily Gordon
Sun Staff Writer