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Book Summary – Ben & Jerry’s: The Inside Scoop – How Two Real Guys Built a Business with a Social Conscience and a Sense of Humor

Ben & Jerry's - Book summary

Ben & Jerry’s is a brand that many of us are familiar with. But, did you know that it started as an ice cream parlour in an abandoned gas station (with $12,000 investment), and grew to a publicly traded corporation with annual sales of over $100 million in less than 15 years? In this book, Fred “Chico” Lager traces the inside story of how Ben & Jerry’s evolved from a start-up to a leading, publicly-listed company, yet retained Ben and Jerry’s original vision and remained one of the most innovative, progressive and socially responsible businesses in the world. This free Ben & Jerry’s summary touches on the broad milestones of Ben & Jerry’s growth and some of the highlights and insights that we’ve gleaned from their journey.

Ben & Jerry’s: An Overview

This story is told through the eyes of Fred Lager (“Chico”) who was hired in 1982 as the Ben & Jerry’s General Manager, and became President and CEO in 1989. The book gives us a glimpse of how the company started, struggled, and conquered. The story is told till 1994, before Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever in 2000. Still, it provides useful insights on how the company grew from a struggling start-up to a successful listed corporation. A fun and inspiring read for ice-cream lovers and entrepreneurs alike :)

Key Milestones

The book is written in a chronological order and we’ve distilled the key milestones in our complete book summary. Here are some highlights:

The Beginning

Jerry and Ben basically went into business without a real plan, business background nor knowledge of ice-cream making. With a $5 ice-cream making course, a bank loan of $4,000 and $4,000 of savings each, they started Ben & Jerry’s in 1978 with a working capital of just $12,000. This sum of money had to cover their renovations, ice-cream making experiments, and the initial period of operations while they were losing money. Although they had to scrimp, save, and eat leftover food from customers, they happily invested in fun activities for their community like the Free Cone Day and 1-year anniversary gala.

Wholesale took off

The book traces how they started their wholesale business (and concurrently juggled ice-cream making, sales, delivery, raising money and running the shop), innovated with the first-ever one-pint container sales, and opened the first franchise scoop shop in 1981.

IPO & Pillsbury Showdown

By then, both Jerry and Ben were burnt out, and worried that they were losing their personal values as the business grew bigger. They almost gave up the business, but pushed ahead with the resolution to keep their values alive in and through the business. The book details how they stuck to their roots and unique values in giving back to the community through an unconventional Vermont-IPO, how they ran their campaign against Pillsbury Corporation (owner of Häagen-Dazs) for unfair practices, and how they fought back against another competitor “Steve’s” by personally driving across the country in their “Cowmobile” in a scoopathon to give away free ice-cream.

Strengthening Foundations

The book covers example after example of how Ben and Jerry overcame seemingly-impossible challenges with creativity, fun, perseverance and great work ethics. However, by 1988, the company was struggling to keep pace with its explosive growth, and had to deal with issues like organizational development, succession planning and mission clarification and actualization. The book covers these developments in detail, including how social mission was deliberately woven into the company’s fabric and how Ben & Jerry’s eventually stabilized as one of the distinctive market leaders by end 1994.

The Inside Scoop & Useful Insights

Ben & Jerry’s story brings to life many important lessons and realities behind business startups, growth, culture and branding and what it means to build a company that’s authentically an extension of who you are. Our complete 14-page summary distills our key takeaways in 6 parts.

Ben & Jerry’s book summary_takeaways-lessons

For this article, let’s just examine 2 of these related areas:

Staying True to Themselves

First, Ben & Jerry managed to stay true to themselves despite their explosive growth and IPO.

  • From the onset, the 2 founders were instrumental to the company’s success. Their personal philosophies influenced all aspects of business, and were probably best represented in their quotes on the first Free Cone Day:

“If it’s not fun, why do it?” – Jerry
“Business has a responsibility to give back to the community
from which it draws its support.” – Ben

  • The duo worked hard, but also focused on what they enjoyed, and this led them to play to their natural, complementary strengths: Ben was optimistic, entrepreneurial, driven, set uncompromising quality standards, and had great marketing instincts and creativity. However, his perfectionist standards, endless ideas and constant changes made him hard to work with. Jerry was accessible, down-to-earth and loved experimenting with ingredients, making him a great operations chief and ombudsman.

Sales & Marketing

Even their Sales and Marketing efforts were very much an extension of who they were – unpretentious, all-American, socially responsible and a little funky. This gave them a unique niche in the super-premium ice cream segment which, in the 1980s, was characterized by sleek, foreign-sounding brands. For example, they gave away free ice-cream (a recurring theme in their marketing efforts), personally engaged with their customers (e.g. developing new ice cream flavours using customers’ suggested ingredients, personally adding a handwritten not to each customer mail/ enquiry), offered tours of their factory, and used creative, funky ads for their IPO (“Get a scoop of the action!”) and CEO recruitment (‘‘Yo, I’m Your CEO’’ contest). Our full summary elaborates on these examples and how their unique brand personality is brought to life.

Getting the Most from Ben & Jerry’s

It is impossible to replicate the vivid anecdotes and humour in the book, and there are many details in the stories that are entertaining and insightful at the same time. For  other useful takeaways like the role of Quality, Social Mission/Purpose, and how they handled Growing Pains, do check out our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, a 14-page text summary, and a 26-minute audio summary.Ben & Jerrys summary - book summary bundle

For the full story and details, you can purchase the book here or visit the official Ben & Jerry’s website to get more updates and information.

Want to learn more insights from real stories from business founders? Do also check out our summaries for Delivering Happiness (Tony Hsieh from Zappos), Creativity Inc (Ed Catmull from Pixar), and Shoe Dog (Phil Knight from Nike).

About the Author of Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s: The Inside Scoop – How Two Real Guys Built a Business with a Social Conscience and a Sense of Humor is written by Fred “Chico” Lager who joined Ben & Jerry’s in 1982 as General Manager. He became President and CEO in 1989. He resigned in 1991 to write this book, but continued to serve as a member of the Board of Directors till 1997. Since 1991, Lager has been a speaker and self-employed consultant to emerging small businesses, also serving on the boards of several organizations. Lager was born and raised in New York City . He holds a BA degree from the University of Vermont and an MBA from the University of Southern California. He currently lives in Williston, Vermont with his wife, Yvette Pigeon.

Ben & Jerry’s Quotes

‘‘I’d rather fail at something new than succeed at something old.’’ – Ben Cohen

‘‘We can’t just optimize profits. We have to optimize the community as well.’’- Ben Cohen

“Jerry and Ben had decided early on in their business careers that they would only do the jobs they liked to do”

“Most people suspend their values about contributing to society when they go to work…Its when we’re at work that we’re most powerful, because we’re organized and we have the financial resources of the company behind us.” – Ben Cohen

“Working smarter, not harder, would have been an option, but no one know how.”

Click here to download the full book summary and infographic

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