About halfway through Sebastian Mallaby's column "Ben & Jerry & Seattle" [op-ed, Dec. 10], I found myself feeling bad for the sad, lonely guy being profiled in the piece--and then I remembered Mallaby was talking about me. But how can that be? Neither my company nor my life in any way resembles the straw man Mallaby built to make his point.
According to Mallaby, Ben & Jerry's is bleeding so badly the sharks are circling ready to gobble up a weak company. Mallaby also seems to believe that any business-led effort for social progress, such as the national campaign I lead, Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, has stalled in the cold reality of market forces. Then he jumps to the assumption I am somehow "isolated."
Let's start with the business. According to Mallaby, our company's social values have hurt profits so much that others are ready to move in and pick up the pieces. In the final analysis, he suggests, the Ben & Jerry's experiment was a failure.
Wait a minute. Ben & Jerry's isn't bleeding money. In fact, our philosophy of taking care of all of our stakeholders--our customers, our workers, shareholders and suppliers, and our larger community--continues to pay off. Our overall sales, market share and profits continue to rise steadily.
Ben & Jerry's model has been so successful it is now being copied by hundreds of profitable companies that sell everything from mutual funds to phone service. Nobody believes anymore that in order to make a profit you have to mistreat your employees, destroy the environment and turn your back on suffering in the world. Consumers are no longer willing to excuse a company's transgressions if it claims it was "just doing business."
This idea that doing good is good for the economy is catching on in the political world as well. That is why I am now working with more than 500 business executives from such companies as Hasbro, Eastman Kodak, Phillips Van Heusen, Visa Card International, Stride Rite and Men's Warehouse, as well as Ted Turner and Paul Newman, to get the federal government to invest in the kinds of programs that will pay real dividends in the next century--programs that invest in kids. Specifically, we are targeting health care programs and education programs such as Head Start and modernizing our public schools for increased investment.
After being advised by a slate of impressive military thinkers, including former CIA director Stansfield Turner and former assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb, we have determined that the best way to pay for this program is to trim 15 percent from the Cold War-era Pentagon budget. By cutting our nuclear forces down to 1,000 warheads we could, over time, save $15 billion per year and still have enough firepower to destroy every major city on earth four times over. That alone is enough savings to fully fund Head Start and supply health insurance to every American child who currently doesn't have any and doesn't qualify for any other program. By canceling the F-22 fighter plane, a position supported by much of the Republican House leadership, we would save enough money to rebuild almost half the public schools in the United States in need of repair.
Poll after poll shows education and health care are among Americans' top priorities. So here I am in the company of great corporate and military minds along with the overwhelming majority of the American public. And Mallaby believes this leaves me "somewhat isolated"?
The truth is that it is the people who defend 19th-century business practices and Cold War-era budgeting who are becoming increasingly isolated. Those who disagree with me can sit around and talk it over with the likes of Al "Chainsaw" Dunlop. The unemployed bad boy of corporate restructuring might have the time.
As for me, I have too much work to do.
The writer, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., is president of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.