I scream, you scream to scoop up CEO job in very cool company

June 15, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

What I like most about Ben & Jerry's is everything. Which is why I want to be the company's new chief executive officer.

Don't laugh. The job is open. And I like to think I'm qualified.

My resume:

* I wear jeans to work.

* I think Cherry Garcia is simultaneously the best name for a food and the best food ever created.

* Although I didn't go to Harvard B-School, I have been to the Ben & Jerry's around the corner. I ordered Chunky Monkey. A double sugar cone.

* I can pick either of the Berrigan brothers out of a crowd.

* In my spare time, I like to make up cool ice cream names. Chillin' Dylan. Rocky Maraschino (never been beaten).

* I never allow the word c-h-o-l-e-s-t-e-r-o-l to be spoken in my presence.

Hey, maybe I'm overqualified.

You probably heard the news. Ben Cohen is stepping down from his job as CEO of the company he and Jerry Greenfield founded as an ice cream stand in an abandoned Vermont gas station because -- and I think these were his exact words -- "If I eat one more spoonful of this stuff, I'm gonna explode."

I'm ready to take that risk.

First, though, I have to pass the test. That's right, a test. Here's the genius of Ben Cohen. He's going to find his replacement through a national contest that will have nothing to do with Ed McMahon.

What you have to do is write a 100-word essay on why you want the job. And include a lid from a pint of your favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor.

Here's my first draft.

"Dear Ben & Jerry,

"I want to be CEO 'cause chicks dig it. I cede the rest of my time to the senior senator from Massachusetts.

"Yours in dairy,

"Mike"

These guys are my heroes. And not just because, like many of you, I have, in the privacy of my own home, eaten three pints of Cherry Garcia without taking a breath.

No, they're my heroes because they are everything businessmen aren't supposed to be. They are the guerrillas of the business world. They stand as giants for those of us who could never imagine running a company (like, you gotta do this payroll thing every week?).

Take their last little promotion, which is an introduction of their smooth ice cream line. They've gone to smooth to prepare Boomers for the time when they get too old for ice cream with a crunch.

In the commercials, you see these middle-aged people enjoying their smooth Ben & Jerry's. Some of these people happen to be Daniel Berrigan and Bobby Seale.

It's subversive, selling Bobby Seale to Middle America.

And it's cool.

Mostly, these guys are cool. They put a human face on capitalism. Check out Ben's bearded face, which looks like a cross between Jerry Garcia's and Santa Claus'. Ben is Willie Wonka without the mean streak, while Jerry -- how cool is this? -- basically quit the biz years ago to live off the fat of his ice cream.

Ben & Jerry's gives 7 1/2 percent off the top to groups that help the disadvantaged and/or save whales.

They buy their nuts from the rain forest, and, for all I know, they probably insist that their cows get milked gently. They do pay Vermont dairy farmers higher than the market prices in a show of solidarity -- a word, I'm guessing, you don't hear a lot in business schools.

They have a rule, which they now are going to break, that nobody gets paid more than seven times what the lowest person in the company gets paid. Ben made $133,312 in salary last year. No bonuses. That's about what the CEO of GM makes on his lunch break.

The new CEO will get more. That's because Ben is really quitting because he's got a business that does $140 million a year and figures he needs somebody who actually knows what he's doing to run it.

I'll try.

Well, to be honest, I'm not going to try that hard.

Like many people entering the contest, I'm more interested in the second prize, which is membership in something called the Ice Cream for Life Club.

I'm assuming that's all the Ben & Jerry's you can eat. I'm pretty much there now. I just need somebody else to pay for it. No bonuses necessary.

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