Brooklyn, New York
Cofounder, Ben & jerry's Homemade, Inc.
Although he is half of the amazing ice cream duo of Ben & Jerry's, Jerry Greenfield is definitely the one in the back seat of the company vehicle while Cohen is the driver. Greenfield is the quiet one, preferring to leave the limelight to his more flamboyant partner. Yet his impact on the company has been just as great. He is the one who in the early days actually made the ice cream and developed Ben and Jerry's signature flavors of Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey. He concentrated on the product while his friend and partner focused more on marketing and publicity.
"I think for a lot of companies, customers are just numbers. But they're real people out there. You have to relate to and interact with them. Put yourself in the mind set of the person on the street and what's important to them."
Greenfield was born in 1951 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a stockbroker. He grew up in Merrick, Long Island, where he met future business partner Ben Cohen in his seventh grade gym class. The two became best friends after a particular incident: they had trouble running a mile in seven minutes, and Cohen talked back to the gym teacher in protest. They both attended Calhoun High School in Merrick, where they double-dated in Cohen's Chevy Camaro convertible, decked out with an eight-track tape player.
Greenfield was granted a National Merit Scholarship, which is a scholarship given to students scoring very high on college SATs, and went off to Oberlin College in Ohio to study medicine. He also got a job scooping ice cream cones in the college cafeteria. His favorite course, however, was "Carnival Techniques," where he picked up several useful skills, including fire-swallowing. It was the sledgehammer-and-brick trick, however, that was to become a very important component at various Ben & Jerry's special events. It involved suspending Ben, also known as "Habeeni-Ben-Coheeni," between two chairs and placing a cinder-block on his round bare belly, whereupon a serious, pith-helmeted Jerry would raise a sledgehammer and subsequently smash the cinder block, without harming Habeeni.
After graduating from Oberlin, Greenfield applied to a number of medical schools but was turned down. Frustrated, he got a job as a lab technician in New York. During this time, he and Cohen shared an apartment. When Greenfield's applications to medical schools were rejected a second time, he moved to North Carolina with his future wife, Elizabeth, and got a job in another lab in 1974. In 1976, Greenfield moved back to New York to team up with Cohen to pursue their dream of operating a food business together.
They settled on ice cream and took a correspondence course from Pennsylvania State University in ice cream making. In May 1978, Cohen and Greenfield opened their first ice cream scoop shop in Burlington, Vermont, with Greenfield making all of the ice cream. In 1984, Greenfield "retired" from Ben & Jerry's and moved to Arizona where Elizabeth was enrolled in a university doctoral program. They returned to Vermont in 1985 and Greenfield became director of mobile promotions for Ben & Jerry's.
In 1987, Greenfield and Elizabeth were married, and the couple had a son, Tyrone, in late 1988. Greenfield remained on the company's board of directors after he and Cohen sold the company to Unilever in 2000. The B&J cofounder enjoys spending time with family and friends, and his hobbies include basketball and volleyball. And, according to the Ben & Jerry's Web site, "He still swallows fire, but not as frequently as he used to. Instead, he's taken up the martial art known as 'Samurai Pint-Slicing.'"
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