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I was almost the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s

January 9, 2010
By HOWARD RILEY, hjriley@adelphia.net

A way back in 1994, Ben & Jerry, the famous ice cream makers, decided to hire a CEO for their huge and still-growing company. (The company began in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vt. in 1978.)

So they made a big poster, which was part of the illustration shown at the top of my rejection letter. It was a take-off on a World War I recruiting poster of Uncle Sam pointing and saying, "I Want You," but Ben & Jerry's said, "Yo, We Want You To Be Our CEO."

That marketing effort was a contest asking that anyone interested in becoming their new CEO send in a 100-word essay. I sent one in immediately, which, thank God, I have lost, but I was very closely considered for the job along with about 74,999 others who also applied for the position.

Article Photos

Along with "the official rejection letter" was another letter addressed simply, "Dear Friend" and here are some excerpts from that letter of 16 years ago.

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The great response

"When Ben announced on June 13 that he was resigning from the Chief Executive Officer position in our company and we announced (the CEO contest), we had absolutely no clue that the response would be so tremendous. We've received entries from every walk of life imaginable senior citizens, classrooms of children, husband-wife teams, people nominating their pets, pets nominating their people, mothers, fathers, grandparents, babies, people that are well off in life and people much less fortunate, even inmates from prison. We've received entries from all over the United States and many, many countries including Japan, Thailand, Germany, England, Israel, countries in South America and Africa - even Australia."

The letter then went on to say how incredible the essays were, calling them "amazing pieces of personal creativity," along with top-10 lists, songs, poems, family photos, posters, signs, plaques, and "hand painted wooden concoctions." The essay count went to as high as 75,000, and they were all read by a small staff of employees at the company.

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And a great ending

So the "Dear Friend" letter ended like this:

"Sadly, it has become very clear that we cannot write to you personally due to the sheer numbers of responses (it would take years to respond to you!). We have been deeply moved and have appreciated your thoughtfulness. Please know that it brought us as much joy, enlightenment and fun as it brought to you.

"As promised, we've enclosed the rejection letter (suitable for framing), as well as a coupon for a pint of our new Smooth ice cream and a 'Call for Kids' brochure that will explain an unfortunate human reality that is very important and crucial to all of us and that everyone can work to change as we go forward in life.

"We hope that you will continue to follow the growth of our company, stand with us as we continue to make business a positive force for change in the world, and that you will continue to have fun while making a difference, as you have shown us you can do.

"Thanks so much for your entry! Yo!"

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Correction: This column carried a picture on Dec. 26 with a caption that identified the man as Rick Burman's grandfather, Richard Burman. It certainly was his grandfather but not Richard Burman; it was his other grandfather, Fred Gorrow. Sorry about the mistake. -HR

 
 

 

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