Postmodern Horatio Alger

A review of Ben and Jerry’s: The Inside Scoop by Fred “Chico” Lager

Who knew that the making of a company could be such an enthralling story? Written by Ben and Jerry’s former CEO, the story includes conflict, suspense, and a series of highs and lows, that as the stakes get higher become progressively higher and lower.

The plot follows the creation of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream company – beginning with the opening of their first ice cream shop in a converted gas station, to becoming a public company and a nationally recognized brand.

Ben, the main character, is complex. He’s genius and visionary and authentic, but unrealistic, capricious, and difficult to get along with. He’s supported by a cast of characters that include Jerry, his partner, Fred, the author, along with members of the “Ice Cream for Life” club, unscrupulous competitors, and loyal customers.

The overarching conflict involves Ben and Jerry’s quest to build a socially conscious business. They started as two anti-establishment hippies and were almost dismayed by their company’s growth. As they grew they resist becoming the establishment and try to remain the fun, quirky business with a symbiotic relationship with the community they service.

Happily, in good vs. evil, good wins this one. The reader is left with the message that the little guy can triumph over greed and Big Business with hard work, good will and authenticity.

It’s a Horatio Alger story with a twist. Two little guys build a big company. Instead of being satisfied with monetary success, they continue to take the position of the little guy, against greed and soulless capitalism.

Nearly 20 years after this book was published (1994), Ben and Jerry’s has become both the inspiration for and the cautionary tale of the social enterprise. Throughout the nineties, Ben and Jerry’s was not able to live up to Wall Street’s standards, and in 2000 they sold to Unilever. Read about the implications of the sale in Ben and Jerry’s sale: truth or myth?

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