Greenfield, Jerry

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Greenfield, Jerry

Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream


Jerry Greenfield, along with Ben Cohen, founded Ben & Jerry's ice cream, which features delicious flavors with quirky names like Chubby Hubby; Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz; and Chunky Monkey. The pair are former hippies who started off with a little scoop shop in Vermont, and ended up infiltrating corporate America with their tie-dyed shirts and dedication to improving the world. Thanks to Ben & Jerry's, people can eat ice cream and be socially responsible at the same time.

Personal Life

Jerry Greenfield was born in 1951 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a stockbroker. He grew up in Merrick, Long Island, where he met future business partner Ben Cohen in his seventh grade gym class in 1963. The pair became best friends after an incident in which they had trouble running a mile in seven minutes, and Cohen talked back to the gym teacher in protest. They both attended Calhoun High School in Merrick, where they double-dated in Ben's Chevy Camaro convertible, decked out with an eight-track player. Greenfield was granted a National Merit Scholarship and went off to Oberlin College in Ohio to study medicine. Cohen had a jump on their future industry, having been an ice cream man in high school; Greenfield began scooping cones in the college cafeteria.

After graduating from Oberlin, Greenfield applied to a number of medical schools but was turned down. He got a job as a lab technician in New York, where he performed experiments on the mitochondria in beef hearts. During this time, he and Cohen shared an apartment. When Greenfield's applications to medical schools were rejected a second time, he moved to North Carolina with his future wife, Elizabeth, and got a job in another lab. In 1976 Greenfield moved back to New York to team up with Cohen in starting a company, which had been their dream. In 1987, Greenfield and Elizabeth were married, and the couple had a son, Tyrone, in late 1988. Greenfield enjoys spending time with family and friends, and his hobbies include basketball and volleyball.

Career Details

In 1976 Greenfield and Cohen decided to join forces and open their own business. "We were clearly not succeeding in our chosen fields," Greenfield explained to Dreifus in the New York Times. "So we started considering different ways to support ourselves. Since we love to eat, we immediately thought of food." After spending some time in upstate New York, they moved to Vermont in 1977 and invested $5 in a correspondence course in ice-cream making from Pennsylvania State University. They both received an A in the course and immediately started work on opening their own ice cream shop.

With $8,000 of their own money and $4,000 in loans, Greenfield and Cohen opened Ben & Jerry's Homemade ice cream parlor in Burlington, Vermont on May 5, 1978. It was housed in a converted corner gas station. Greenfield was responsible for making all of the ice cream, and his flavorful alternatives to the weary standards caused a sensation. Some of his creative flavors include Chunky Monkey (banana with chocolate chunks), Peanut Butter and Jelly, and Heath Bar Crunch. Two of the most popular flavors are Cherry Garcia, created in 1987 and named after Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia, and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Ben & Jerry's lowfat yogurt was test-marketed in 1991 and proved popular, and later, no-fat yogurt was rolled onto the market as well. In the effort, he told the New York Times, Greenfield functioned as the practical, day-to-day manager while Cohen was more of a risk-taker.

The little shop became such a success that in 1980 Ben & Jerry's rented space in an old mill and began packing pints of their product to sell to stores. In 1981 the company found new, larger headquarters in Burlington, behind a car dealer, and the first franchise dealer opened. That same year, Time magazine praised Ben & Jerry's as "the best ice cream in the world." Cohen and Greenfield were ex-hippies who became rich entrepreneurs, but being part of the "establishment" eventually made them uneasy. They considered selling the business, and in 1982, Greenfield moved to Arizona with his wife-to-be, Elizabeth, so that she could finish her doctoral degree.

Despite their uneasiness, Cohen kept the cream flowing, opening the first out-of-state Ben & Jerry's franchise in 1983. By 1984, sales were $4 million, a 120 percent increase from the previous year. In 1985, Greenfield returned to Vermont and became director of mobile promotions, which meant that he and Cohen drove around the country in a "Cowmobile" motor home to hawk their wares. Outside of Cleveland, Ohio, the vehicle caught fire and was demolished, but luckily neither was harmed in the blaze.

Greenfield continued his position as Ben & Jerry's director of mobile promotions when Cow II was unleashed on the nation in 1987. Also that year, President Ronald Reagan named the founders "U.S. Small Business Persons of the Year," and the next year the company was awarded the Corporate Giving Award from the Council on Economic Priorities. In 1989, Ben & Jerry's received the Lawrence A. Wien Prize for corporate social responsibility from Columbia University. Greenfield became vice-chair of the board in 1990, and with Cohen, attended various speaking engagements. In 1994, Greenfield and Cohen decided to hire someone else to run their business, launching a nationwide search for a new CEO and soliciting applications from anyone who wished to explain why they deserved the job. The "YO! I Want to Be CEO!" campaign generated much publicity for Ben & Jerry's, but eventually the winner was selected in 1995 during a search conducted by a professional executive search firm.

Social and Economic Impact

Greenfield's career is best characterized by Ben & Jerry's commitment to social causes and to their workforce. Along with Cohen, Greenfield is active in Businesses for Social Responsibility, and practically wrote the book on how corporations can have a social conscience and still be profitable. In fact, Greenfield and Cohen did write a book: Ben & Jerry's Double Dip: Lead with Your Values and Make Money, Too. They apparently know what they are talking about, as the company made $170 million in 1997.

Even early on when Ben & Jerry's was a single shop, the founders sponsored free movie festivals in Burlington. In 1985, in order to apply their newfound wealth to their long-held idealist values, Greenfield and Cohen set up the Ben & Jerry's Foundation. Each year they donate 7.5 percent of the firm's annual profit to benefit various community projects and nonprofit organizations. Greenfield and Cohen have also established "1 Percent for Peace," a group that wants to see one percent of the national budget donated to peace-promoting causes.

In wanting to make the world a better place, Greenfield and Cohen aspired to treat their workers better than most big companies. Greenfield instituted the Joy Gang, a company activity team that helps make the workday more enjoyable. They sometimes bring in food and a disc jockey to play music, or they may give away prizes. There is no company dress code, and even the top brass show up to meetings in jeans and T-shirts. Communication is stressed, and Greenfield and Cohen are active members in the organization, holding staff meetings regularly to give information and receive it. They also stress the value of social responsibility among members of their work force, encouraging people to be active in their community.

Chronology: Jerry Greenfield

1951: Born.

1963: Met Ben Cohen in gym class.

1977: Took correspondence course in ice cream making.

1978: Opened Ben & Jerry's Homemade ice cream shop.

1980: Began distribution of ice cream pints to stores.

1981: Opened first Ben & Jerry's franchise.

1985: Established Ben & Jerry's Foundation.

1986: Launched "Cowmobile" traveling promotions vehicle.

1987: Introduced Cherry Garcia flavor.

1991: Test-marketed low-fat yogurt.

1994: Hired new Ben & Jerry's CEO after humorous campaign.

Ben & Jerry's also has a fair compensation package, hoping to lead the way for other corporations to more adequately reward workers. The top-paid employee may make no more than seven times the lowest-paid employee, and their salaries and benefits outpace most in their area. Childcare is readily available not only for employees' children, but for any child under kindergarten age nearby, and benefits are extended to unmarried partners.

Sources of Information

Contact at: Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream
30 Community Dr.
South Burlington, VT 05403-6828
Business Phone: (802)651-9600


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