Harvard Business School
Rev. December 15, 1993
Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream Inc.: Keeping the Mission(s) Alive
As Chuck Lacy composed his thoughts before the September 1990 Ben & Jerry’s board meeting, he knew that the central decision of the day would set the tone of the company for years to come. And because he was to assume the presidency in January, Chuck felt a special need to put his imprint on that decision. From the beginning, Ben & Jerry’s was determined to be a company with a strong and unique set of values. It wanted to be a force for social change. It wanted to stand for something better than the typical corporation. A key policy exemplifying that intention was the 5-to-1 salary ratio, which dictated a maximum spread between the lowest and highest paid employees of five times—a dramatically narrower differential than the 90 to 1 norm in American business. (See Exhibit 1 for a description of the policy.) The policy aimed to recognize the contribution of lower-level employees and to link top management rewards to company-wide compensation. It also made a philosophical statement that corporate America tended to overpay top management and underpay entry-level employees, and that corporations should strive to reduce discrepancies in wealth distribution. A source of great company pride, this policy had drawn more attention, internally and externally, than any other at Ben & Jerry’s. In recent years, however, the board and various company members had begun to question its fairness and effectiveness. Ben & Jerry’s had grown much larger and more complicated. New positions that required a higher level of management skill and professionalism were being created, and the 5 to 1 rule was a major barrier to offering competitive compensation packages to prospective candidates. Mid-level employees saw limited incentive for promotion, as salary compression began to equalize middle- and upper-level compensation. Top management was paid substantially...