Doing It the Ben & Jerry’s Way
At Ben & Jerry’s, we… well, we like to do things differently. Whether it’s building our entire business on the concept of linked prosperity or handing out free cones to all our customers one special day every year as a way of saying thanks, our approach is unconventional, to say the least.
But it’s hard to think of anything we’ve done to match the spectacle of our mid-‘90s search for a new CEO.
A Trip Down Moo-mory Lane
Ben and Jerry had been involved in managing just about every last detail of the business since 1978. By around 1994, they were ready for a change, and both acknowledged that it was probably a good idea to bring someone in from outside the company for a fresh perspective.
Normally, executive recruiting involves a lot of fancy suits, wood-paneled boardrooms, a few rounds of golf, and maybe secret executive handshakes? (To be honest, we’re not totally sure.)
But that’s not the way that Ben and Jerry wanted to do it. Remember, these are guys who opened their first Scoop Shop after taking a $5 correspondence course in ice-cream making.
The “normal” way didn’t interest them at all.
Yo! How Do We Find a CEO?
We’ve had a saying around here for a long time: “If it’s not fun, why do it?” We think that applies to everything we do, even stuff like finding a new CEO.
So Ben and Jerry put on very tall top hats, along with their most serious expressions, and posed for a poster based on the old Army recruitment ad: “We want YOU to be our CEO.”
Their idea for landing a new head honcho? An essay contest. And anyone, anyone at all, regardless of age or experience, could apply.
The Overwhelming Response
How many people do you think sent in entries? OK, we’ll tell you: more than 25,000! We had to use one of our largest conference rooms to hold all the stuff we received. And, because most of those writing to us were hardcore fans, those applications were pretty creative. Here are just a few examples:
- An entry wrapped in a Superman cape and tights
- A customised, and quite intricate, Ben & Jerry’s Monopoly board
- A giant mural of a cow
- A cake with the applicant’s work history rendered in icing on top
- Trainers painted with Woody (the cow) scenes
- A tub, made of wood, that you had to crack open in order to read the CV within it
- A miniature replica of a hot-air balloon
- Homemade root beer (when the root beer bottle accidentally exploded, one of the glass shards pierced the hot-air balloon!)
Not an Easy Decision
In the end, after reading through all the entries, three applicants were chosen as second-prize winners. So, while they may have lost out on the CEO spot, they did receive membership in our coveted Ice Cream for Life club:
- Laura Kelm, Columbus, Ohio, for a work of art entitled, “Don’t Hire Me as Your New CEO” (we took her advice)
- Taylor James Caldwell, Valencia, CA, three years old at the time (he’s out of college now), who entered on behalf of his parents who, he said, needed to be “rescued from dead-end jobs”!
- Mark Hyman, Burbank, CA, a TV correspondent, for an amazing video touting his candidacy
Thousands of others received “a rejection letter suitable for framing” and, oh yeah, one person, Bob Holland, was chosen as our new CEO.
Bob’s resume reached us through an executive recruiting firm (boring!), but we had a feeling he might be a perfect fit when, in keeping with the spirit of Jerry and Ben’s contest, his application included a poem, titled “Time, Values, and Ice Cream.” Quick question: Has your CEO ever written poetry?
If It’s Not Fun…
Research indicates that our approach to hiring a chief executive hasn’t exactly caught on throughout corporate America over the past 23 years. CV cakes, tragically, are still far more rare than plain-old CV's. (What, exactly, are people supposed to eat while conducting interviews?)
Well, we might not have changed the world, at least not this way, but we sure had fun trying.