Thirty-two years ago, Ben & Jerry’s was an ice cream store in Burlington, Vermont with annual sales under $1 million. Ben was also selling a few pints to local stores out of the back of his car. He knew that people liked the product and wanted more, and as he drove around, trying to sell more ice cream, he got the sense that he might be onto something big. This excerpt from Ice Cream Social explains what happened next.
Ben was a brilliant marketer and salesman, with a fierce competitive streak. He had a magical ability to connect to his fellow baby boomers. He was a genius when it came to creating new flavors of ice cream, and he could be wildly funny, warm, and kind. People followed him. “A lot of people come up with crazy ideas,” said Jeff Furman. “But Ben would actually go out and do the things he dreamed up. He would get me into unbelievable situations. I wanted to support his craziness.”
Jerry also enjoyed Ben’s crazy energy, but he wanted a quiet, orderly life. So Jerry decided to leave the ice cream business late in 1981, a few months after Time magazine began a cover story with the sentence, “What you must understand at the outset is that Ben & Jerry’s in Burlington, Vermont makes the best ice cream in the world.” Getting an endorsement from Time was a really big deal in the summer of 1981. Ben & Jerry’s had started selling ice cream in pints just a few months before the story ran, and they couldn’t keep up with demand. Jerry saw where the company was going, and he didn’t want to take the ride.
Ben knew that he had a chance to make it big. But the work was hard, and neither of them had intended to become business executives. With Jerry leaving, Ben didn’t see the point of going on by himself. Then Ben delivered some ice cream to a local restaurant owner and artist and told him the business was for sale. The old restaurateur told Ben that the business was far too valuable to sell. He urged Ben to hold on to it.
Ben replied that he didn’t want to run a business. “I said, ‘Maurice, you know what business does, it’s harmful to the environment, it’s harmful to its employees,’” Ben said on Biography. “And he said, ‘Ben, if there’s something you don’t like about business, why don’t you just do it different?’ That hadn’t really occurred to me before.”
The first thing Ben did after he decided to keep the business was to call Jeff Furman. Ben needed to turn Jerry’s half of the company into cash, so Jerry could leave with whatever he would have gotten if the company had been sold. Jeff suggested that Ben sell some of Jerry’s stock in a private offering to friends and family. He also drafted an agreement that would pay Jerry to stay on as a consultant, and he persuaded Jerry to retain 10 percent of the company’s stock.
The private offer of stock was made in a six-page document Jeff wrote. Today that document is like a nice old snapshot that gives viewers a sense of the original spirit of the company. To read it, click here.
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