Written by Madison Hamilton
They were just two seventh grade boys who didn’t want to run the mile in gym class.
“If I can’t run it in seven minutes the first time then why would I be able to run it in seven minutes the second time?” Ben asked his gym coach.
This is when Jerry knew he and Ben, future co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, would be friends.
On the evening of Nov. 19, hundreds of ice cream lovers and entrepreneurs gathered at the AT&T Conference Center for free ice cream and a talk by Jerry Greenfield. The Beta Eta Lectureship, founded in 2002, focuses on personal growth and ethics. And although Greenfield is a well-known business mogul, he emphasizes the balance between company growth and giving back to the community.
Jerry studied pre-med while Ben worked a number of odd jobs after dropping out of college. After Greenfield was rejected from med school, he decided to team up with Ben to start a business.
The two had always loved to eat, so they decided on opening an ice cream parlor. They split the cost of a class, bought a textbook, and learned how to make ice cream. They had no idea where to open their first shop so they began researching college towns with warm weather. After finding out that most college towns already had ice cream parlors, they decided on Burlington, Vt. Not the warmest place, explained Greenfield, but Ben had visited a few times and thought it would be suitable for their business.
They got a copy of a business plan from a friend’s pizza parlor and submitted it to the bank for a loan.
“Every place where it said ‘slice of pizza,’ we crossed it out and we wrote in ‘ice cream cone,’” said Jerry.
After receiving $4,000 from the bank, Ben and Jerry opened shop in May of 1978. The first summer in the gas-station-turned-ice-cream-parlor, business was booming. But sure enough, as winter rolled around, people stopped wanting ice cream cones.
“We even came up with what, I think, was the best promotion in the history of Ben & Jerry’s. It was called, ‘Penny off for Celsius Degree Below Zero Winter Extravaganza,’” Jerry joked.
But not even that was enough to get them through winter, so to make ends meet during the ice cream off-season, they began selling ice cream to some of the local restaurants. And then, after another beautiful summer, Ben had an idea.
Jerry explained that Ben was always jealous of the salesmen who came in and sold napkins, chocolate syrup, and whatever else they needed.
“In Ben’s mind, what these sales people did was drive around in their car all day and listen to really good music, and then they would stop into a store and sell a couple things and then get back in their car and listen to more really good music,” said Jerry.
They put a nice sound system and an insulated Styrofoam box in Ben’s old station wagon, and for the next year, Ben drove around Vermont everyday trying to sell all the ice cream before it melted.
The business began to grow as more distributers were interested in putting Ben & Jerry’s ice cream on their shelves. Pillsbury even threatened to pull their products if the major companies continued to distribute Ben & Jerry’s alongside their brand.
This led to Jerry’s campaign: “What’s the Doughboy Afraid of?”
The campaign gained so much support that Pillsbury eventually backed down and allowed Ben & Jerry’s to be sold next to their products.
This is when Jerry realized their company was getting big, and he wanted out.
“Our business was becoming another cog in the economic machine,” said Jerry.
But then a friend suggested that, instead of selling the company, they should just change the way big business operates. He agreed and still strives to maintain the “spiritual aspect of business.”
“As you give, you receive. As you help others, you are helped in return,” Jerry explained.
Instead of taking money from venture capitalists to expand their multi-million dollar company, they offered the citizens of Vermont a chance to invest — a big business first. They offered a $126 minimum stock buy-in to anyone living in Vermont. They ended up raising $750,000, and one out of every 100 people in Vermont now owned part of Ben & Jerry’s.
Eventually, they became aware of Greyston, a New York bakery that provides jobs for people who are out of the economic mainstream, and Ben and Jerry began to source their brownies from them. The brownies were used in ice cream flavors such as Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Half Baked. Jerry estimates that last year alone, they spent nearly $8 million for brownies from the bakery.
“Simply by purchasing those brownies from Greyston, we are able to support the work they do in providing jobs,” Jerry said.
Unlike most businesses that measure their success in profits, Ben & Jerry’s has a two-part bottom line.
“It’s not just how much money we make, it’s also how much we improve the community that we operate in,” said Jerry.
The event was wrapped up with questions from the crowd. And finally, Jerry disclosed his favorite ice cream flavor: AmeriCone Dream.
This article originally appeared on McCombs TODAY.