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The San Francisco Chronicle carries an interview with Ben Cohen, one of the founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. While Cohen remains on the company payroll, the brand has been sold to Unilever, and he is more focused on his role as president of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, a group working to shift federal spending away from defense and into social needs.


On his role at the company now: “I show up every once in a while. Sometimes the company does activities that promote various social causes that I agree with, so I participate in those. Recently, the company did a campaign about reducing our nuclear arsenal -- taking the $10 billion we would save from cutting the arsenal in half and using it for kids and schools. Jerry (Greenfield) and I were active in promoting that campaign… now the company is being run by a guy named Walt Freese who happens to agree with the original mission -- believes in it personally, and also believes that it's a critical component of the so-called brand of Ben & Jerry's…He's actively looking for ways to integrate social concerns into how the company does business. (He backed) the idea of focusing on three areas -- global warming, family farms and budget priorities -- and he's come up with flavors that support those things. He's maintained our purchases from Vermont family farmers. It's a difficult task for him, because he needs to deal with the short-term, bottom-line, profit-maximizing mentality of Unilever.

The goal of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities: “The mission is to fund social needs -- education, health care, world hunger, energy independence and even a little debt reduction -- at no additional cost by reducing Cold War-era weapons expenditures…For that amount of money you could repair every school in the U.S., plus you could provide health care for every kid in the U.S. who currently doesn't have it. You know those 6 million kids who die every year around the world from starvation? You could provide food self-sufficiency for all of them in addition. It's shocking stuff. And it's irresponsible not to work to make that change. That's what drives me…It's totally relevant after 9/11. Yes, we have added some money to the Pentagon budget for defending us against terrorism, but we have not stopped spending money on the old threats that no longer exist. ... Congress continues to fund these weapons systems that cost hundreds of billions of dollars that have absolutely no use against terrorism. Any business that ran this way would be out of business.”

Advice for people starting a business: “Lead with your values. Do something you believe in, something that feeds your soul. If the excitement is just about making money, I don't think that's going to work long-term.”

KC's View:
Agree with him or disagree with him, you have to admire Cohen’s passion for people, passion for business, and passion for trying to leave the world a better place.