Ice cream mogul to speak on entrepreneurship
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 01:03
After spending thousands of dollars on a college education and putting in hundreds of hours of studying, Jerry Greenfield said he hit a brick wall from every medical school to which he applied.
So he came up with an unconventional back up plan: open an ice cream shop.
Tonight at 8 p.m. in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom, Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s, will speak about his quirky and radical business philosophy as the second speaker of this semester’s University Lecture Series (ULS).
“Jerry is going to be talking about the American dream and the entrepreneurial spirit,” Romel Boiser, ULS Director and a senior majoring in public health said. “He’s going to talk about not only business, but doing business the right way.”
In an interview with The Oracle, Greenfield said success didn’t come overnight, and his journey to leading one of the country’s largest ice cream companies was a rough undertaking.
He and his business partner Ben Cohen opened up their first shop in 1978 in Burlington, Va.
Greenfield said he and Cohen threw together their life savings and took out loans to lease an old gas station building that would house their ice cream parlor. Fresh out of college where he focused on medical studies, Greenfield said he knew nothing about making ice cream and quickly realized that running an ice cream shop was going to be more difficult than he imagined.
‘We had no idea what we were doing,” Greenfield said. “Ben and I had no formal business training and no real training in making ice cream. We also didn’t have very much money when we started. I think the combination of all these factors made it not only chaotic, but exciting.”
They started with the basics: vanillas, chocolates, strawberry and coffees. Eventually the duo worked their way up to the chunky, candy-filled delights they are known for today. When they realized their ice cream was becoming a local sensation, Greenfield and Cohen began marketing their ice cream to local restaurants and grocery stores, eventually working their way out of Vermont and into the national market.
According to Jenna Kelly, graduate adviser for Student Life and ULS, Greenfield was selected to come based off a student survey of 812 people. Forty-seven percent of people surveyed indicated that they wanted ULS to bring Greenfield to USF, the highest percentage of any individual on the survey, Kelly said.
ULS will pay Greenfield $21,000 for his lecture, which will be followed by a short question and answer session with audience members. Audience members will also be given free ice cream samples at the event.
Greenfield is expected to speak on the role sustainability and community plays, not only at Ben and Jerry’s, but in any good entrepreneurial venture.
Greenfield said he and his business partner developed a mission statement that not only included product and financial goals, but also a social mission for the company.
“The specific mission that we had was, and still is, to use the power of business to address social and environmental problems in this country,” Greenfield said.
Greenfield and Cohen looked at their day-to-day business operations to draw inspiration for incorporating social and environmental concerns into their business model.
Around 80 percent of Ben and Jerry’s manufacturing is done in Vermont and all the milk and cream used in their products is purchased at the St. Albans city co-op.
In 2000 the multinational food corporation Unilever bought out Ben and Jerry’s. Despite the change in ownership, Greenfield said he still insists Unilever has continued with the sustainable and community-based practices he and Cohen instituted.
Ben and Jerry’s has committed to sourcing all its ingredients to Fair Trade certified suppliers and transition to 100 percent GMO-free ingredients by the end of this year, he said.
“A lot has changed since 2000, but Ben and Jerry’s has continued to use its voice to influence society,” he said. “Ben and Jerry’s has spoken out about marriage equality and nuclear weapons…so I think despite being owned by a much larger company, Ben and Jerry’s continues to be outside of the business mainstream.”
For Greenfield, success is driven by passion, and said he will tell students theirs should be too.
“The best advice I can offer about fulfilling your dreams is to do something you are passionate about, not just something that you think is clever or trendy, but something that is really a part of who you are,” he said. “Any time you try to do something you are going to hit difficult times and if you are doing something you truly care about and are passionate about, that will carry you through those times because what you are trying to do is also a part of who you are on the inside.”