Jerry Greenfield on the Key Ingredients of Success

July 1, 2011

David Walker, Corporate Communications; Source: Credit Suisse

Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Inc., shares his views on the importance of social awareness for entrepreneurs and the success of his values-led ice cream business. The interview was conducted during the annual Entrepreneurs Summit at the Sundance Resort in Utah, organized by Credit Suisse Private Banking USA.

David Walker: Sir, your company was socially responsible before that really was en vogue. How did you inculcate that in your business?
Jerry Greenfield: I think it was an evolutionary process for Ben and me to want to have Ben and Jerry's be more of a socially responsible company. In the beginning, we were just trying to be a little community-based company and have little festivals or whatever. And I think as the business became more successful, we started to understand the role that business plays in society and that we could have a bigger impact.

It has to be gratifying that the market really has moved to a point where most companies see it as responsible and as good business to be socially responsible. How do you see that evolution?
There has been an enormous shift. Some of it comes from the companies themselves, some of it comes from consumers, who are insisting that businesses be more concerned about what goes on in society. It's interesting to see the power that people in the marketplace have. When consumers speak, businesses listen.

You mentioned that fair trade is very important, as well as locally sourced products. Is that something you followed at Ben and Jerry's? Were you looking to get your milk from Vermont farms?
Yes. You know, when we looked at the impact that Ben and Jerry's has, a lot of it is simply in the ingredients that go into our ice cream. We're big users of milk and cream and then you think of the flavorings and whatever. Looking at the ingredients and what we think of as values-led sourcing has become of primary concern in the company.
It started off with Vermont milk. Then it became hormone free milk. We try to get products like brownies from bakeries that are doing good work in the community and now, the most recent is the company's commitment to become a hundred percent fair trade globally for a hundred percent of our products by the end of 2013. So that's going to become quite a challenge logistically for the folks at Ben and Jerry's. Everybody is completely on board philosophically, but it's about how do you make it happen? I think we have a hundred and twenty or more different ingredients or add-ins, so there's a bit of work to be done.

What do you hope that the audience and those entrepreneurs that you spoke with tonight take away from your remarks?
There are a lot of people in business who are concerned about social or environmental issues and they want these issues to be part of their business. But they either don't know how to do it or they don't know if it's going to make them less profitable or less likely to succeed. And what I try to share with people is Ben's and my experience that not only will it not make you less successful, in our case it made the company much more successful. And just because the conventional wisdom says one thing doesn't mean that it's true. If you're a business person who wants to integrate social and environmental concerns into your day-to-day business, you can do it and be incredibly successful. 

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