In 1978, childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield decided after college to start an ice cream business together out of a renovated Vermont gas station.
Today Ben & Jerry’s is a major global brand owned by Unilever and managed by an independent board of directors. Its founders continue to oversee the direction of the company while running their own foundations. For nearly four decades, they have managed to stay good friends while working together, a rare feat.
In a new Reddit AMA, the founders explain that the key has been a shared vision and complimentary skill sets.
Ben and I spend an incredible amount of time together, still. A very large percentage of it eating.
And we… have always shared a love of food. And occasionally it lurches into overeating. But we are trying to curtail that.
Another interesting thing about Ben & me is that we have very similar values in how we see the world. We both believe that business should be using its power to help address social & environmental issues, and not just making money. So that’s helped define the mission of the company. At the same time, Ben & I have very different skills. Ben is very creative, spontaneous, risk-taking, bounding… adorable… whereas I am more adorable in my own way. Different ways.
Well, Jerry’s a lot more diplomatic than I am. In the early days of the company, you know, we’d be walking around, I’d be first, he’d be second, I was just walking faster, and you know, I’d be coming up to people and I’d say, “This is wrong, that’s wrong, you could do that better,” and Jerry would be walking back and saying “What Ben MEANT to say was…” He would put it in a tone that people were more ready to accept the input in. And I have learned quite a bit from Jerry.
I am more cute and adorable NOW because of my relationship with Jerry.
In his book “Zero to One,” billionaire investor and entrepreneur Peter Thiel likens founding a company with a business partner to getting married. It’s important for cofounders to not only bring different strengths to their company, he says, but they need to also share the same vision and actually like each other so that they can overcome problems that inevitably arise.
According to their responses, Cohen and Greenfield’s “adorable” bromance seems to certainly meet those requirements.
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