Ben & Jerry’s co-founder speaks on values in business at DG Lectureship

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The story of how Ben & Jerry’s came to be and the promise of free ice cream caused SMU students to fill up the Greer Garson Theatre Tuesday at 7 p.m. for the Delta Gamma Lectureship in Values and Ethics.

Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Holdings Inc., spoke about how he and his friend, Ben Cohen, created their business.

“Since we always liked to eat quiet a bit, we thought we’d do something with food and we just picked homemade ice cream,” Greenfield said.

The two opened up the first Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor in Burlington, Vt. in May 1978. After struggling to sell ice cream in below freezing weather, Cohen had the idea to package their ice cream into pint containers. They began selling their product to local restaurants and grocery stores.

The manufacturing of Ben & Jerry’s became a much bigger success than the co-founders had initially expected. It became so popular that Pillsbury and Haagen-dazs were threatened by the brand being sold in larger grocery stores. The dispute between the three companies created a stressful work environment for Greenfield and Cohen.

“We felt like our business was just becoming another cog in the economic machine and we didn’t really want to be part of it and so we decided to get out,” Greenfield said.

The two were about to back out, but their friend advised them to change the way business was being done rather than halt business altogether. Greenfield and Cohen decided that they would create a business that was supportive of the community and their employees.

Ben & Jerry’s became the first business to sell in-state public stock in Vermont. This made one out of every 50 families in Vermont owners of Ben & Jerry’s. When the company prospered, so did the community.

Greenfield also incorporated his values into his business through the creation of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, a philanthropic organization that puts 7.5 percent of the company’s pre-tax profits into giving grants to charities.

The company tackles social and environmental concerns in conjunction with its normal business activities by using Fair Trade Ingredients to buy products at a fair price from small farms in developing countries, using 100 percent non-GMO ingredients, and purchasing the brownies they use in flavors such as Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Half Baked from a bakery that employs people recovering from substance abuse problems.

“There is a spiritual aspect to business, just as there is to lives of individuals. As you give, you receive, as you help others you are helped in return,” Greenfield said. “And just because the idea that the good that you do comes back to you is written in the Bible and not in some business textbook, doesn’t mean that it is any less valuable.”

After Greenfield answered a few questions, the audience filed out of the theatre and towards the tables set up with Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Milk and Cookies, and Fish Food ice cream.

“I like the way he spoke. He was very conversational so it made him very relatable to everything else that was going on,” first-year Taylor Kramer said as she waited in line for ice cream.

Tracy Nelson, Delta Gamma’s VP Foundation Chair, was in charge of hosting the event, and with the help of her sorority, put in many hours to ensure its success.

“We’ve been planning this lecture since last March,” said Nelson. “We put a great deal of consideration into picking a speaker who we think will be effective, securing a venue, and promoting the event.”

Since 1994, Delta Gamma has partnered with the SMU Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility. Delta Gamma members appreciate the annual event and hope that it benefits both SMU and Dallas.

“I think it’s really important because it shows that we care about contributing to the campus and the community as a whole,” said, Delta Gamma junior, Caroline Betts.

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