The gap is widening between Anglo-Dutch Food giant Unilever and the eponymous social heroes of its recent US$326m acquisition of Ben & Jerry’s. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of the famous ice cream company, have previously admitted that they were unhappy with the corporate choice of Yves Couette as the new CEO on 20 November, but now they are threatening to leave if their own candidate is not made co-CEO.
Cohen revealed yesterday that he proposed the co-CEO post because he believes that long-time company director Pierre Ferrari will be more appropriate to advance the social causes originally linked to the company’s ethic. Veteran hippies themselves, Ben and Jerry are both anxious that the company continues to donate a percentage of profits to charity.
Maintaining this corporate culture was an important part of the acquisition talk earlier this year, and a Unilever spokesman is insisting that while Couette is “not necessarily comparable to Ben and Jerry in his knowledge of social missions, but he has an understanding of how important it is to the company.”
“We wouldn’t do anything to damage the company, and the social mission is critical to the future of the brand,” he continued.
Indeed, the continued presence of quirky founders Ben and Jerry is also intrinsically linked to the brand’s marketing image, and it seems likely that they are banking on this fact to gain leverage in the CEO decision. And if Unilever won’t listen, says Cohen, “I think the odds are that I’ll leave the company.”