Ben & Jerry’s Founders Embrace ‘Caring Capitalism’

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield aspired to start a food business in 1977 but weren't quite sure where to start—and years later, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream has become an industry-changing force that promotes what they call "Caring Capitalism."

After spending $5 on a correspondence course about ice cream making from Pennsylvania State University, Cohen and Greenfield used $8,000 of their own money and $4,000 of borrowed cash to open their first Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc. in a renovated Burlington, Vermont gas station. Greenfield made the ice cream, and Cohen served, sold, and marketed their products. While they were notoriously bad at working out the financials of their business, they still managed to open a franchise location in Shelburne, Vermont, just three years after their first location.

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The same year their franchise opened, Time Magazine released a rave review, calling Ben & Jerry's "the best ice cream in the world," and their business took on new life. Their gross receipts were up 120% year over year (YOY) in 1984, and sales hit more than $4 million. However, both men preferred being ice cream men over businessmen, and Greenfield retired while Cohen began turning the company into something more than just another big business.

Greenfield established the Ben & Jerry's Foundation in 1985, donating 7.5% of the company's pre-tax profits to various non-profit charities. And Cohen began implementing a company-wide structure that he called Caring Capitalism. Ben & Jerry's rewards their employees with profit-sharing, health club memberships, daycare services, and college tuition aid. In their pay scale, the highest-paid employee cannot earn more than seven times what the lowest-paid employee makes. Their subordinates also evaluate supervisors to create a culture of openness and idea sharing. And to top it all off, employees are entitled to three free pints of ice cream per day.