Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Ben & Jerry's Visit: Post #1

Let me start off by saying that I had a great time learning about so many aspects of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company. There's just so much stuff to cover that I’m thinking of breaking my stories up into separate posts. In fact, I’m tempted to start these posts like some cheesy TV episode where they show you the story as it’s about to end, then flashback several days earlier….

...so there’s me watching my fellow bloggers get on the bus; My time at Ben and Jerry’s has come to an end. I say my last goodbyes to my gracious hosts and jokingly say that I don’t want to leave….this is my best attempt at covering up the fact that I really don’t want to leave. Look, I know I’m taking my visit way too personally, and I've been trying to ignore it, but I can’t help it. Most of my cohorts here were professional subjective bloggers with journalism and media degrees, but I’m just a guy with a spoon and a long time love of ice cream. I could be wrong, but I imagine that for them this was probably just a very cool business trip, not some kind of pilgramage or life changing experience.

While the bus drove off to the airport with a group of  bloggers still busy chatting about all the cool things we experienced (and all the cool adventures they had before this trip), I silently got in my car and started the long drive home. Vermont has struck me as such a wonderfully simple place to be. The endless mountains with their sparsely populated areas let me know that there’s no mistaking I’m in another state. I expected to find a mirror image of New Hampshire but it just doesn’t feel that way to me. It's peaceful. It's quiet. Even your typical fast food joints and other modern shackles of life are few and far between here. Most people here are friendly and courteous and I did my best to act the same.

The lightly traveled highways gave me plenty of time to reflect on all that I had seen and done during the past 48 hours. I wish I could have written down all the random thoughts floating through my head as I sped down those drizzly roads. I couldn’t stop thinking about how great it must be to go to work and know that you will have a positive effect on the world. I went up expecting to find this cool little company and instead I found one of the coolest companies on the planet. I thought it would be this neat little place full of free ice cream and crazy little perks, but this goes beyond material needs and desires. Sure, you could be getting 120k for a 50k job and I bet you would think you have the best job ever, but life isn’t about buying a fancy car or having the biggest house. It’s about going home to your kids and being able to tell them you're trying to make a difference.

Think about how great it must be to work for a company like this:

One, you make ice cream, that’s just cool in general. Your product equals smiles. I forget which job it was but I found out that some of our products had military applications… I was devastated. Going back even further, my very first contract job was for a company that was killing thousands of mice in their research to find the human genome…. I wanted to be sick. I know it’s for a good cause, but I couldn’t help but be disgusted.

Two, you work for a company that cares for the environment. Ben & Jerry’s is always looking for new ways to help the environment, both internally and externally. It breaks my heart when I go to work for a company and they tell me it’s “too expensive” to recycle. Seriously? Our business processes suck so bad that we can’t afford to recycle? And yes, I’m that guy that walks by your office and goes “Dude! Why’s that in the trash? That’s recyclable!”

Three, your company treats you with respect. No, the Ben & Jerry’s people don’t live in a fairytale land where every day is a breeze and no one ever breaks a sweat. Not everyday is a good day because that’s not how things work. This is real life, and this is a real company making a real profit. However, we met A LOT of people and they all had smiles when they greeted us. Most of the people we met had been with the company 12-24 years! We’re talking people that have been smiling since the ‘80s. That’s just awesome.

Four --- not just respect, but the company cares about your well being. There was a really nice gym built in the middle of headquarters. There was even a trainer there and we saw several people exercising. We also saw a room for new mothers and even a nap room. I get so frustrated sometimes because a lame company would go “If they have a nap room, they’ll just slack off”. That’s not true. I’ve been around long enough to know that when you treat employees as adults, they act as adults. When you have a nap room, employees don’t abuse it. Instead, they relax just that little bit extra and work harder because they know if they really did have a bad day, it would be ok to go chill for 30 minutes and no one’s going to give them flak about it.

Five, your company isn’t just giving away a couple bucks to charity to make themselves look good. Being socially responsible is part of life. Every employee is given five paid days off to go do community work. FIVE DAYS. And that’s on top of any other yearly community group projects they might do.

Ok, I need to stop, I could go on for hours here. I know this blog is suppose to be about ice cream, but visiting Ben & Jerry’s has given me way too many flashbacks to the ups and downs of my career and my life in general. On the way home I should have been thinking about making ice cream and tasting ice cream and reviewing ice cream. Instead, all I could think about was making a difference. Maybe I was just a weird kid. I remember being so excited when recycling came to my town, I thought the world would be a better place by me rescuing cans and magazines from the trash. To this day, I try to never use plastic utensils and I still bring all my recyclables home from work (including paper). I also remember trying to donate money to charity as a kid. No, I didn’t have much and yes I could have tried harder, but it’s not like I had anyone to guide me on how to give back to the world. I wish I could say that I donate all my spare time and money to good causes and charity nowadays but I don’t. I spend too much time worrying about myself.

I’ve spent my entire life trying to fix things, it’s what I do. I wish I was so much better at it …and now, here I am, visiting this awesome company that’s trying to fix things through ice cream. 


I’m sitting here typing and I just have no idea how to convey how I feel right now. I went to Vermont to have fun, but instead I'm reflecting on my life and wondering why I haven't made a bigger difference in the world. This has been just such an awesome reminder that capitalism and caring can coexist.
Unfortunately we don’t live in a simple world without money, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do good. Just because we can’t save everyone doesn’t mean we should give up! Ben & Jerry were just trying to find their way in life, they weren’t trying to rule the world or own everything. Along the way they decided that profit should not be the only measure of a company and the world is a better place for it. I feel so immensely thankful for the reminder that there is still hope out there, good places and good people do exist, and that we can slowly but surely save the world if we try.

Where do I go from here? I really don't....

Ok, I’ll stop and get off the soap box now.

3 comments:

Danny Boy said...

I think that it's awesome that you had such a great experience. I can't wait to read the other posts about the trip to better understand see why it moved you so. Keep 'em coming!

Gigi said...

I am with you- just a spoon and a pilgrimage and I wanna go back!

Bethany Schlegel said...

I there! I just did the B&J experience and left with the same feeling you did -- why am I not doing more? Check out my blog in the next few weeks for my experiences (probably won't be as awesomely detailed as yours) but definitely felt inspired when Ieft.