Jerry Greenfield was trying to become a doctor. Ben Cohen was trying to become a potter. They joke that their foray into entrepreneurship re-sulted from being failures at what they were trying to do in their careers. Today, Ben and Jerry's names are synonymous with socially responsible business and all-natural ice cream in innovative flavors.
Starting with one ice cream shop in a reno-vated Vermont gas station in 1978, by 1999, Ben & Jerry's had more than $237 million in sales from nearly 200 shops and a vast array of products sold in grocery stores and other outlets.
|Blast From the Past|
|We ran an excerpt from Ben & Jerry's Double Dip in 1997; read it here .|
More than just a monetary success, however, the pair brought to entrepreneurship a responsibility-to be a good business, not simply do good business. "The prevailing thought had been that [being] a business engaged in social activities would take away from your ability to make money," says Jerry. "The more our company was involved with social interests, the more profitable we became."
As entrepreneurs, Ben and Jerry are complementary opposites. Says Jerry, "I'm more of a supportive person. Ben is a visionary. He would rather fail at something new than do something that has already been done before. Sometimes you just have to let someone go with something."
In 2000, Ben and Jerry struggled with letting go in a different sense. Under pressure from their board, they sold their company to a major conglomerate, Uni-lever. "It was a very difficult time emotionally," says Jerry. Neither will discuss the selling of their company further, preferring to talk about their current work.
Ben, no longer with the company bearing his name, is enthusiastic about his main projects: The Priorities! Campaign, focusing on education and health care for children, and several VC funds for social-minded entrepreneurs (see October's " Money Buzz ").
Jerry is still employed by his former company, working with the Ben & Jerry's Foundation to fund nonprofit organizations dealing with grass-roots democracy and various globalization issues.
Looking back, Jerry says he and Ben worked well together because of the different qualities each brought to the business. "If either of us had started it on our own," he says, "we would have failed-or not been as successful."
|BEN & JERRY|
How do you define "entrepreneur"?
Ben Cohen: [Someone who] has a tremendous amount of drive and is willing to sacrifice most anything to bring this business vision to fruition.
Who is your idea of an entrepreneurial icon?
How do you keep your entrepreneurial spirit alive?
What was your dream when you started out?
What's your legacy?
- The title of Ben Cohen, Jerry Greenfield and Meredith Maran's book Ben & Jerry's Double Dip: How to Run a Values-Led Business and Make Money, Too says it all. Run your business without compromising your values, and you'll find more than profits-you'll find loyal consumers and a wildly successful business.
- Written by Fred Lager, Ben & Jerry's former CEO, Ben & Jerry's: The Inside Scoop: How Two Real Guys Built a Business With a Social Conscious and a Sense of Humor offers unique insight into the beginnings of the ice cream company's colossal success.