Ben and Jerry’s brand of activism survives its Unilever takeover

May 24, 2012

The folksy Ben & Jerry ice cream outfit seemed an unlikely fit for the global Unilever Corporation. But their activism and social values of the smaller business seem to have survived the takeover

When a global Corporation acquire a smaller brand, there is likely to be a clash of cultures. Recently, Coke’s acquisition of Innocent, the pioneering manufacturer of healthy Smoothies drinks comes to mind. Another instance is that of Sony acquiring the tiny Hawkeye operation ahead of its own interests in Hawkeye’s technology being developed in sports such as tennis and cricket (with the greater market for football looming).

The Anglo Dutch giant Unilever likes to acquire brands with enough global potency to retain identity within the Unilever family. One BBC article recently asked whether its brand and corporate actions were becoming more like that of Ben & Gerry’s.

When Unilever bought Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in 2000, there was talk of Unilever becoming more like Ben & Jerry’s and not the other way round. The quirky American ice-cream maker certainly does not appear to have abandoned the principles of its founders.

Ben & Jerry’s publicly supported the Occupy Wall Street movement and, according to co-founder Jerry Greenfield, nobody got fired.
“I am pleased that Ben & Jerry’s is able to continue its innovative mission,” he says. “We get a lot of support – sometimes I’m a little surprised at how supportive Unilever is.”

“I think Ben & Jerry’s was a tipping point for Unilever – they learned a lot from the culture and learned that it made business sense,” says Paula Widdowson, former head of social responsibility at Northern Foods who is now a consultant on the subject.

The Corporate plan

When Unilever unveiled its plans for putting sustainability at the heart of its global operations [in 2010], CEO Paul Polman publically committed to to reducing the environmental impact of its products by 50% while doubling sales, in the coming decade to 2020. He noted that the new model was “the only way to do business long term”.

The Ben & Jerry website

The Ben & Jerry website retains a powerful sense of the historic quirkiness of the company. Its activism and commitment to social values shines through. [I was reminded a little of the core identity of Mattel, when I looked at the site: Ed].

Ben & Jerry’s is founded on and dedicated to a sustainable corporate concept of linked prosperity. Our mission consists of 3 interrelated parts [social, product and economic].

Underlying the mission is a determination to seek new and creative ways of addressing all three parts, while holding a deep respect for individuals inside and outside the company and for the communities of which they are a part.

At the time of the takover the news was described in these terms

Unilever is to buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company in a deal worth £203m ($326m).

Started in an old petrol station in Vermont in 1978, the [Ben & Jerry] company grew into a quirky business with a strong social dimension.
But lately differences have arisen between Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield about the direction the company should take, although the old schoolfriends deny they have fallen out.

“While we and others certainly would have pursued our mission as an independent enterprise, we hope that, as part of Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s will continue to expand its role in society,” they said in a statement.

Leadership lessons

Ben & Gerry cases have become a favoured topic for business school study. A range of case studies can be found (together with a range of not-always-model analyses).

This post has been written to introduce the potential dilemmas facing the Tom & Gerry brand within its wider responsibilities as part of a global operation.

Follow-up

Ben and Jerry has thrived as an autonomous part of the mighty Unilever global Corporation. Its employee-driven foundation backs community initiatives with millions of dollars.


BP Oil-spill: Official report spreads blame

January 6, 2011

The offical report into the Deepwater Horizon disaster spreads the blame around BP, Transocean, bad management, and government regulatory laxness

Broad culpability was always likely. The offical report summarized today [January 6th 2011] leaves plenty of scope for years of legal wrangling.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was an avoidable disaster caused in part by a series of cost-cutting decisions made by BP and its partners, the White House oil commission said last night. In a preview of its final report, due next week, the national oil spill commission said systemic management failure at BP, Transocean, and Halliburton caused the blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico, and warned that such a disaster would likely recur because of industry complacency. “Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blowout clearly saved those companies significant time (and money),”

See also the Leaders we deserve reports in the months following the oil-spill.


Golf, Business and The Environment

August 17, 2010

Tudor Rickards, Susan Moger, and Leigh Wharton

Golf means big business. Around the world, from Dubai to Scotland to Singapore there is great competition to hold top tournaments as part of a regional development leisure strategy. But new golf courses also pose environmental challenges calling for innovative solutions.

In Scotland, the ancient home of golf, an initiative by Donald Trump met with protests for several years, although his proposals always promised to bring much-needed employment to a region in Aberdeenshire facing a decline in its fishing and North Sea Oil business. A BBC report noted:

Aedan Smith, head of planning and development at RSPB Scotland, [Royal Society for Protection of Birds] commented
“RSPB Scotland is surprised and extremely disappointed at this decision, which we believe is wrong both for Aberdeenshire and for Scotland. The development will cause the destruction of a dune system, with its precious wildlife, on a site which is protected by law and should continue to be available for future generations to enjoy.”


Trump lands in a bunker

Two years later [August 2010] the plans were still being contested bitterly. The Independent reported:

The billionaire Donald Trump last week clashed with protesters opposed to his controversial plans to build the “world’s greatest golf course” near Aberdeen. Quarry worker Michael Forbes, who is refusing to sell his property which adjoins the £750m scheme, claims Mr Trump’s workers unlawfully annexed his land. The clash is the latest skirmish in an increasingly bitter battle to prevent Mr Trump from developing the site. More than 7,000 local people have signed up to join the “bunker”, co-owners of an acre of land sold by Mr Forbes [a local land-owner] to disrupt the US tycoon’s plans. The philanthropist and co-founder of the Body Shop (Gordon Roddick) and Green MP Caroline Lucas are the latest to join the campaign.

Meanwhile at The Mull of Kintyre..

Meanwhile, in an equally beautiful part of Scotland, another venture was claiming to support economic regeneration. A multi-million pound luxury golf resort is set to boost a wider regeneration of Argyll and Bute, one of the most beautiful but poorest parts of the Scottish Highlands. The Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club is near the southern end of the Mull of Kintyre, made famous in a song by Sir Paul McCartney, the former Beatle who has a farmhouse on the peninsula. The course, which opened last year, lies beside the old Machrihanish Golf Club, which was built in the 1870s and regularly features as one of the world’s top-100 venues. Massachusetts-based Southworth Developments, the private company owned by David Southworth, a US property developer, took a controlling stake at the time. To date [Aug 2010] opposition seems far less than was received by the Trump project.

Golf and Environmental Responsibility

Recent visits to Dubai and Singapore have revealed similar recognition of the potential for golf to support plans for economic development. But the environmental debates do not go away. Letters in The Straits Times for example discussed the demands placed on precious water supplies. owever, the leisure industry has become sophisticated in acknowledging its environmental responsibilities. Singapore hosted an international conference in 2008

In his opening remarks, Col (Ret) Peter Teo, general manager of Singapore Golf Association, supported the need for courses to be environmentally and socially responsible. He suggested that Singapore could take the lead in golf excellence. Such a positioning, which would require multi-shareholder involvement by the clubs, government agencies, NGOs and the private sector, would show that Singapore cares deeply about nature conservation and that every stakeholder can participate.

Business, Leisure and the Environment

Business, leisure, and the environmental considerations have become intimately mixed. Students of leadership may find it instructive to consider what principles of leadership help in the evaluation of such global issues.


BP Oil Spill: August-Sept Updates

August 4, 2010
Least Terns - one of many birds affected by Gu...

Image by flythebirdpath~} teddy (heart still in YOSEMITE) via Flickr

September 8th “It’s not all our fault”

BP provides oil-spill report. Accepts errors but begins cautious spreading of the errors (blamestorming?)

September 5th

Unified Command has released a video of Saturday’s [September 5th] retrieval of the Deepwater Horizon Blow Out Preventer

Just when I thought the story was going to sleep another oil-rig explosion in the Gulf (Marine Energy operated) …. Great quote: “Just when we thought we’d had a wake-up call we hit the snooze button”.

August 30th

Evidence that BP’s prospects into the future will be severely limited.

August 20th

[1] An interesting stat. Oil Spill at 6 million barrels huge. Note combined spills from three tanker spills exceed that figure.

[2] Lawyers for Transocean, the company that owned the oil rig is alleging that BP is denying them access to information they needs.

According to the BBC:

The claim is made in a letter from one of Transocean’s lawyers sent to members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet. BP rejected the allegation, saying the letter contained “misguided and misleading assertions”. Nevertheless, the claim risks piling further pressure on BP.

August 16th President and daughter swim in Gulf.  Brits recall a politician (John Gummer) who fed hamburger to daughter in Mad Cow drama some years ago.

August 13th Bloomberg’s Joe Mysak writes of Oil-Spill Hysteria.

Never before has a disaster like this been accompanied by such an unrelenting torrent of hysteria, speculation and inexpert testimony… The pronouncements grew madder and madder. This was nothing less, they said, than the oil apocalypse.

What looks like what happened is that BP Plc shut off the well, after some trial and error. As they were doing so, they were also siphoning off oil, burning some and dousing a good portion of the remainder with chemicals meant to break it up so that the ocean could do the rest. Some oil was skimmed at the surface, some was collected in various barriers and some inevitably made it to shore. What’s next? The oil company still has to seal the well. Then there’s more cleanup, which will last months or years.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about how the oil-spill drama will conclude. People talk a lot about the fishing industry, almost as though we were living in 1890. The fishing industry is a relatively unimportant part of the modern Gulf, which is why everyone there is eager for the real business, drilling for oil, to resume. Then of course there is tourism. Can it be restored to pre- spill quality and levels?

Americans are an impatient lot. Something tells me that you don’t clean up the biggest oil spill in the nation’s history overnight. It seems, though, the Deepwater Horizon disaster could have been much worse. Not too long from now, within our lifetimes, people may ask, “Remember the Gulf oil spill?”

August 8th Lawsuits loom. A class action suit has been filed against BP and Nalco related to use of dispersant Corexit.


August 7th
BP stands down Doug Suttles. Replacement is a less senior executive who seems likely to be there for the longer-term, and more full-time. Mike Utsler becomes lead representative in the Unified Area Command and the chief operating officer for the oil giant’s Gulf Coast restoration organization. Suttles, who has led the company’s overall response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill will now return to his role as chief operating officer

August 6th “seal or sell”. Now the story shifts towards economic issues. The leak seems sufficiently under control to raise the question of the economic future of decisions being made. We have a strategic dilemma here around the decisions of selling off the well, or keeping options open of recovering revenues.

August 5th A government report says only a quarter of the oil from the BP well remains and that it is “degrading quickly”. According to the BBC, the report was compiled by 25 of “the best government and independent scientists”.

August 4th: The “Static Kill” to seal the well has begun. First indications are promising says BP senior vice-president Kent Wells (Nice name for a Wells manager?). He now will presumably front up the BP communications. US Government representative Admiral Thad Allen is now “designated incident commander”. Project management, governance, and leadership roles are coming into focus.

See Also July Entries Updated July stories