Born in Bergen, the gateway to the beautiful fjords of Norway, Jostein Solheim seems an ideal choice as CEO and VP Global Brand Development of Burlington, Vt.-based Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., a Unilever company, where he took the reigns on April 1, 2010.
Ben & Jerry's, founded in 1978 by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield with an investment of $12,000, is known for its trendy and innovative ice cream/yogurt/sorbet flavor combinations and clever names (such as Cherry Garcia, the first ice cream named for a musician (Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead). It is also known for its local, national and international social involvement and environmentally friendly production policies. Acquired by Unilever in 2000 for $326 million, it operates separately from Unilever's U.S. ice cream business.
With 841 employees in Vermont, the company uses local ingredients including milk and cream from family farmers who pledge not to treat their cows with the synthetic hormone rBGH and Fair Trade ingredients. Solheim reassured the community that Ben & Jerry's will remain in Vermont. "We're 100 percent committed to the community, of staying here and being here," Solheim said during his first press conference in Vermont.
There has been controversy about the company's "all natural" claims in recent months, but the company agreed to phase out its use of the term "All Natural" for ice creams and frozen yogurts that contain any processed or artificial ingredients.
Solheim has been with parent company Unilever for 19 years, 15 of them gaining global experience in five countries about ice cream. For the past three, he's worked on a "rejuvenation" of Unilever's North American ice cream business with brands such as Breyers, Klondike, Popsicle and Good Humor, focusing on quality and innovative new products. His challenge is to build the brand, increase sales in mid-America and Asia. "I bring two scoops worth of ice cream experience, a global business perspective, a working understanding of how Unilever operates, and a passion for Ben & Jerry's to be a visionary, cutting-edge, values led business," he said.
"Good karma brought me to Ben & Jerry's specifically because I am an ice cream guy!," he said. "I have worked with ice cream for 15 years across Europe, Eastern Europe and North America. I happened to be in the right place, at the right time. My passion for values led businesses combined with the right skills to lead Ben & Jerry's made me a solid candidate to take on this the challenge."
By the way, his favorite flavor is Chunky Monkey, in fact, he and his wife wolfed down a pint of it on the day Unilever took over Ben and Jerry's.
"My mantra that I've repeated a hundred times since starting at Ben & Jerry's is: ‘Change is a wonderful thing,'" he said. "The world needs dramatic change to address the social and environmental challenges we are facing. Values led businesses can play a critical role in driving that positive change. We need to lead by example, and prove to the world that this is the best way to run a business. Historically, this company has been and must continue to be a pioneer to continually challenge how business can be a force for good and address inequities inherent in global business."