Although ice cream has never been an immediate connector to social causes, Ben & Jerry’s has done a great job over the years of partnering with organizations and NGOs to address such issues. Mathew McCarthy, CEO at Ben & Jerry’s, delves into the purpose that lies behind the community-powered company.
What does purpose and more specifically purposeful DOing mean to you personally?
Living my purpose means action – taking consistent and mindful actions to make the world a better place.
How have you seen the role of purpose in business change over time?
Business has always had the power to put purpose into action for good. The big shift underway is purpose becoming THE driving force in business vs a ‘nice to have’ afterthought.
How do you foster creativity and initiative among your team?
“Getting the hell out of the way” is no longer enough for senior management; I work proactively to redistribute my positional power to the team everywhere possible to fuel their ideas & initiatives. Failing is part of being on the leading edge – I work to show my team I have their backs when we stumble.
What is the role of community for Ben & Jerry’s? How does Ben & Jerry’s engage its community?
Ben & Jerry started out in a small ice cream scoop shop – we’ve been part of the community since the beginning. Now we’re in 38 countries, and being connected to the communities we serve is just as important as ever.
How do you choose issues to focus on? What role do employees play in defining purpose and identifying causes?
We have our co-founders Ben & Jerry to thank for our values which guide us on the issues we address. My teammates bring their passion and talent in both selecting key issues and the programs to tackle them.
While ice cream might not immediately connect the causes that Ben & Jerry’s cares about, how was this connection made in operations?
We partner deeply with grassroots organizations and NGOs in addressing our social and climate justice focus areas. We don’t force-fit causes based on selling more ice cream.
A lot of businesses are called out for “washing” when they introduce a new purpose. What do you think are important steps to take in order to be taken seriously?
In today’s world of hyper-transparency, your people are your primary source of authenticity. Too many business/brand leaders waste time seeking the perfect brand/cause fit. Focus on real issues that your teammates and fans care about, do it with passion, tenacity and humility. Admit when you’re wrong, learn, and keep going like hell.
Do you have a way to measure Ben & Jerry’s impact? How does impact compare with other indicators in the business?
We have big set of metrics across business and social impact we track regularly. Where possible we merge the business ROI metrics with our social impact tracking.
What’s your favorite flavor?
Tough question! Right now it’s Vanilla Caramel Fudge – a yummy classic.
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