(Host) One of Vermont’s best-known companies has a new CEO.
Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream chose a veteran executive from the ranks of its parent company, Unilever, for the top job.
VPR’s Ross Sneyd caught up with the new CEO.
(Ice Cream Order)
(Solheim) "Are you being helped?" (Customer) "Chocolate fudge."
(Solheim) "Chocolate fudge. This way my friend."
(Solheim) "Alright. You’re welcome. Yes! Alright, then I go back to the beginning and do it again."
(Sneyd) It was Jostein Solheim’s second day on the job at Ben & Jerry’s, and already he was working behind the counter at the Burlington scoop shop.
The company chose to introduce its new CEO on the one day of the year when it gives away free ice cream cones around the country.
Marketing executive Sean Greenwood made the introduction at the scoop shop.
(Greenwood) "Happy free cone day to everybody. We want to make our big announcement today in classic Ben & Jerry’s fashion. We have a new CEO. Jostein Solheim is here, ready to take the helm. We figured nothing better than start him off on day two than free cone day. We figure if he can handle this, then he’s going to stick around."
(Sneyd) Solheim actually seemed taken aback by the revelry. Later, outside the Burlington store, he marveled at his new starring role in the ongoing production known as Ben & Jerry’s.
(Solheim) "Personally, I’m used to directing the show. I’m not used to being in it. And I’m not very comfortable. That’s not what I normally do."
(Sneyd) Still, he laughed and smiled and dutifully wore a trademark, tie-dyed apron in a nod to the roots of the company and its founders.
Ben & Jerry’s may have a quirkiness all its own. But it’s still a business, and one owned by a multi-national, and that’s where Solheim came from.
He’s spent 19 years at Unilever, all but five in its ice cream division. For the past three years, he’s worked on what he describes as a "rejuvenation" of Unilever’s North American ice cream business, working on such brands as Breyer’s, Klondike, Popsicle and Good Humour.
Now, his job will be to build on Ben & Jerry’s already strong brand name.
The company sells well on the U.S. East and West coasts, but Solheim says more markets need to be developed in between.
And he’s eager to build a customer base in Asia, where he says Ben & Jerry’s only has a "toehold" at the moment.
(Solheim) "The big market in Asia that we’re looking at, how we can crack, is Japan. At the moment we have a fantastic franchise operation in Singapore. But it’s small. It’s six stores."
(Sneyd) What he’d like to duplicate there is the company’s success in Europe, where sales have grown at double-digit rates for five years.
A native of Norway, that’s where Jostein Solheim got his first taste of Ben & Jerry’s. He claims Chunky Monkey as his favorite, by the way. He and his wife downed a pint of it on the day Unilever took over Ben & Jerry’s 10 years ago.
For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.