Ice Cream Kings, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield
Ben and Jerry met in a high school gym class in their Long Island hometown, and realised they shared a love for food, not athletics. After failed attempts to be a potter and a medical student respectively, Ben and Jerry reunited in 1977 to start their own business. They thought about making pizza and bagels but decided on making ice cream in Burlington, Vermont – where there was little competition.
Their shared aspiration was to build a community, not just a workforce. A large part of their brand is built upon social activism and “hippy values” and that is still a large part of their professional and personal identities.
Ben & Jerry’s Business Values
- Be real. Be who you say you are, both inside and outside the company. Do the right thing even when nobody is looking.
- Be the best. If your customers love your products, you will prosper. Your business strategy should be to outperform the competition. Be passionate about giving customers what they want, when they want it, every single time.
- Learn continuously. Keep growing your technical skills, your business skills and your personal skills.
- Improve continuously. Every time you do something, think about how you can improve the process and do it better next time.
- Be inclusive. Embrace individual differences. Building a diverse workforce that transcends gender, nationalities, ethnicities, sexual orientation and personal background contributes to excellent performance and societal good.
- Build community. Have a zest for life, a sense of humour and enjoy each other’s company. We share the excitement of succeeding at the game of business and we’ll try to have fun while doing it. No one at Ben & Jerry’s should feel alone or apart. When one of us needs help, we reach out to help.
- Be open and trusting. Rationales, strategy and the truth should be shared. Be open about your concerns, failings and mistakes. Make people feel safe to speak up about things they care about. Trust one another’s good intentions.
- Be creative. Creativity is your strength. See beyond conventional thinking and come up with ideas that work, that excite our customers and reflect our values.
- Recognise and celebrate accomplishments. Recognition is a hallmark of leadership. When people perform well and hit targets, recognise and cheer them on. This leads to more accomplishments. Make recognition a daily habit.
- Promote consultive decision making and active listening. When making decisions, involve people with the necessary skills and those likely to be affected by the decision. Let those with contrary opinions be heard actively and respectfully. However, Ben & Jerry’s is not a democracy. Leaders need to make the final decisions based on facts, data and input.
- Hold yourself accountable. Do what we you say you’re going to do and to be clear about your responsibilities and what’s expected of you. When you don’t do your part, it affects everybody. Poor performance puts a company at risk.
- Be a great communicator. Effectively and consistently communicate and share pertinent information in a timely way.
- Be upfront. Constructive feedback is essential to improvement.
- Be profitable by being thrifty. Invest wisely with a sense of frugality.
- “If you support the community, they will support you.”
- “Startups are often very undercapitalised, but I found that to be very beneficial because it forces you not to throw money at problems. Instead, you learn all the nuts and bolts of what you’re doing and become an expert.”
- “Don’t just do something because it’s a trendy idea and will make you a lot of money. The reason I say that is because any kind of venture involves going through difficult times. If you’re doing something you are passionate about and really believe in, then that will carry you through.”
- “The reality is that most companies are not about any values at all – they are about making money. It is extremely rare for a business to stand for anything because most businesses don’t want to alienate potential customers, and if you believe in anything you are going to alienate someone.”
- “Businesses can lead with their values and make money, too. You don’t have to simply be purely profit-driven. You can integrate social and environmental concerns into a business, be a caring business, be a generous business and still do very well financially.”