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Ben Cohen (b. March 18 1951 in Brooklynmarker, New Yorkmarker), is a co-founder of the ice cream company Ben & Jerry's.

Early life

Raised in the town of Merrickmarker on Long Islandmarker by his parents Frances and Irving, Cohen first met and befriended his future business partner, Jerry Greenfield, in a junior high school gym class in 1963. In his senior year, Cohen found work as an ice cream man before heading off to attend Colgate Universitymarker upstate.

Over the next decade, Cohen pursued his interest in pottery as he mixed further education - Skidmoremarker, the University Without Walls program, the New School, and NYUmarker - with a vast variety of menial labor - gigs as a McDonald's cashier, a Pinkerton guard, a deliverer of pottery wheels, a mop-boy at Jamesway and Friendly's, an assistant superintendent, an ER clerk, and a taxi driver - before eventually settling on work as a craft teacher at a private school for emotionally disturbed adolescents. It was during his three years at the Highland Community School that he began experimenting with making his own ice cream.

Ben & Jerry's

By 1977, Ben had decided to go into the food business with his old friend Jerry Greenfield, and in May of the next year, the two men opened Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream Parlor in Burlington, Vermontmarker. They had initially intended to start a bagel business, but found the equipment costs prohibitive and switched to ice cream instead, choosing Burlington as a location because it was a prominent college town which lacked an ice cream shop. In part, their distinctive style of ice cream was developed to compensate for Ben's anosmia - his loss of smell and near-loss of taste - as Ben kept adding larger and larger chunks to the ice cream to satisfy his need for texture in food.

Ben & Jerry's became an instant hit in Burlington, drawing crowds with ice creams that mixed fresh local cream and milk with wild new flavors and "large portions of whatever ingredients they felt tasted good on the day of making."

Ben resigned as Chief Executive Officer in 1995. Ben has not been actively involved with the company since the Unilever acquisition in 2000, apart from his membership on the advisory board.

Social activism

As Ben & Jerry's gradually grew into a nationwide business and one of the largest ice cream companies in the USA, Cohen turned his newfound wealth and prominence toward a variety of social causes, generally through the Ben & Jerry's Foundation. The Foundation receives 7.5% of all Ben & Jerry's pre-tax profits and distributes funds to organizations such as the Anti Displacement Project. Cohen also oversees TrueMajority and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.

Cohen has been an active voice in favor of small-scale farming, does not accept milk with rBGH or other implants, and has heavily criticized US budgetary priorities, pointing out that more money is spent on nuclear weapons than on children's healthcare programs. He is also vocal in his support of Democratic candidates, including Dennis Kucinich for the U.S. Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 and John Edwards followed by Barack Obama in 2008.

Personal

Cohen has often been described, not least by himself, as a hippie or an ex-hippie. He is also a noted fan of the Grateful Dead.

As mentioned in the documentary film Super Size Me, Ben underwent a quintuple bypass in 2001, at the age of 49, to clear blocked arteries. John Robbins (son of the one of the founders of Baskin-Robins attributes the heart ailment on Ben Cohen's excessive consumption of ice cream.

Quotations

"Business has a responsibility to give back to the community from which it draws its support."

Honors

  • Ben Cohen was honored by the New York Open Center in 2000 for his "leadership in pioneering socially responsible business."
  • Ben Cohen was a US Small Business Person of the Year in 1988.


References


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