Jerry Greenfield met Ben Cohen in grade school gym class.
Years later, the two best friends are among the most successful business partners in the world of ice cream.
As an entrepreneur who said he sees himself as being outside of the business mainstream, Greenfield shared anecdotes of his lifelong journey as part of the Center for Student Involvements University Lecture Series (ULS) on Monday night in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom.
This is what me and Ben were doing: we were essentially failing at everything we were trying to do, Greenfield said. And so we thought eh, lets get together and try something fun and something where we get to be our own bosses, Greenfield said. Since we always liked to eat quite a bit, we chose something with food. We just kind of picked ice cream and we didnt know a thing about it.
The two learned how to make ice cream from a $500 correspondence course, he said.
Greenfield also shared many of the bumps he and Cohen hit on their road to becoming one of Americas largest ice cream companies, but managed to work they way around them through creative solutions.
Greenfield highlighted what he said he believes to be one of Ben and Jerrys best marketing ploys and an early idea by the duo at their original store in Vermont: Popcbdzwe.
When the winter came, sure enough we stopped selling ice cream, he said. POPCBDZWE was a special we ran that stood for Penny Off Per Celsius Degree Below Zero Winter Extravaganzaand at the time we were catty-cornered from the Burlington savings building and they had a big digital sign with a temperature gauge so we always knew how much money to take off each cup of ice cream. It was great.
In addition to tales that kept the crowd laughing throughout his 45-minute lecture, Greenfield spoke about his personal business philosophy and its incorporation into the Ben and Jerrys business model.
Greenfield said the normal definition of a business is that business is an entity that produces a product or provides a service, but at Ben and Jerrys, he said, they decided to define it differently.
We defined our business as a combination of human energy, plus business, which equals power, Greenfield said. Its become clear that business has become the most powerful entity in the world today.
Throughout his speech, Greenfield said he wanted to clean up the bad name businesses and entrepreneurs have been given.
What we learned at Ben and Jerrys is that there is a spiritual aspect to business as there are with the lives of individuals, he said. As you give, you receive. When you help others, you are helped in return. Just because the idea that if you do good, (then) good things come back to you is written in the Bible and not in some business textbook does not make it any less valid. We are all interconnected and as we help others, we cant help but be helped in return.
Many of the 406 students in attendance drew inspiration from Greenfields lecture, and some said they hope to take the message Greenfield shared and apply it to their own business dreams and goals.
Stevan Brenner, a sophomore majoring in business, started his own apparel line a few months ago and came to see Greenfields speech because he was interested in sustainable capitalism.
I think the thing that inspired me the most was the idea of giving back to the community because that is a core value that I hold both in my day to day life and it is a core value of the business I am trying to start up, Brenner said.
ULS has allotted more than $110,000 to bring three celebrity speakers to campus during this semester. Greenfield received $21,000 for his lecture. The third speaker for the semester will be Grammy award-winning musician John Legend who will speak on April 9 about philanthropy and education.