BEN & JERRY’S HOMEMADE
Jerry: What’s interesting about me and my role in the company is I’m just this guy on
the street. A person who’s fairly conventional, mainstream, accepting of life as it
Salt of the earth. A man of the people.
Jerry: But then I’ve got this friend, Ben, who challenges everything. It’s against his
nature to do anything the same way anyone’s ever done it before. To which my
response is always, “I don’t think that’ll work.”
To which my response is always, “How do we know until we try?”
Jerry: So I get to go through this leading-edge, risk-taking experience with Ben—even
though I’m really just like everyone else.
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This document is authorized for use only in EMBA 2012-2013 by Virginia Santamarina from September 2012 to
debate. Cofounders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield knew the company’s social orientation
required corporate independence. In stark contrast, chief executive Perry Odak felt that Ben and
Jerry’s shareholders would be best served by selling out to the highest bidder.
Ben & Jerry’s Homemade
Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, a leading distributor of super-premium ice creams, frozen
yogurts, and sorbets, was founded in 1978 in an old gas station in Burlington, Vermont. Cohen
and Greenfield recounted their company’s beginnings:
One day in 1977, we [Cohen and Greenfield] found ourselves sitting on the front
steps of Jerry’s parents’ house in Merrick, Long Island, talking about what kind of
business to go into. Since eating was our greatest passion, it seemed logical to
start with a restaurant…. We wanted to pick a product that was becoming popular
in big cities and move it to a rural college town, because we wanted to live in that
kind of environment. We wanted to have a lot of interaction with our customers
and enjoy ourselves. And, of course, we wanted a product that we liked to eat….
We found an ad for a $5 ice-cream-making correspondence course offered
through Penn State. Due to our extreme poverty, we decided to split one course
between us, sent in our five bucks, read the material they sent back, and passed
the open-book tests with flying colors. That settled it. We were going into the ice
Once we’d decided on an ice cream parlor, the next step was to decide where to
put it. We knew college students eat a lot of ice cream; we knew they eat more of
it in warm weather. Determined to make an informed decision (but lacking in
technological and financial resources), we developed our own low-budget
“manual cross-correlation analysis.” Ben sat at the kitchen table, leafing through a
U.S. almanac to research towns that had the highest average temperatures. Jerry
sat on the floor; reading a guide to American colleges, searching for the rural
towns that had the most college kids. Then we merged our lists. When we
investigated the towns that came up, we discovered that apparently someone had
already done this work ahead of us. All the warm towns that had a decent number
of college kids already had...