Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ben & Jerry's Didn't Have a Strategy.

It would seem that even with the rite people, a company cannot thrive without a strategy. Throughout the Ben and Jerry’s case study I noticed that the company strategy is never mentioned. The company mission can be found toward the end of the case, but the strategy is never mentioned until the Looking Ahead section where the author mentions that “Bob Holland faced the challenge of developing a strategy that not only addressed Ben & Jerry’s current competitive position, but was also consistent with the companies unique mission and background.”
            After researching the company a little more, it would appear that the company never really had a clear strategy under the leadership of Ben and Jerry. If we look back at the beginning of the case study the Company History Section mentions that the ice cream venture grew out of a failed bagel delivery service. The case also mentions frequently how critical decisions such as new flavors, the strength of the flavor, and new styles (such as the smooth ice cream) were based off of the founders gut feelings and tastes rather than being made inline with some corporate strategy.
            After reading the Can You Say What Your Strategy Is article I started wondering “would any of the Ben & Jerry’s employees in the 1980’s and early 1990”s be able to summarize the companies strategy in 35 words or less?” Based on the organization of the company and the way they expand and make decisions, I seriously doubt that the employees knew what the strategy was. With that in mind, how did Ben & Jerry’s survive and do so well for almost 17 years? According to the Can You Say What Your Strategy Is article, Ben & Jerry’s would fall under the category of “companies that never even had [a strategy.]” If this is the case, why did we not read about any frustration within the company and its’ employees?  I think the answer lies in the employees.
            Although the case did mention minor problems (wage spread being one of them), by setting up the company in a manner that was comfortable for Ben and Jerry (no formal organization chart, wear jeans to work, 1-to-5 maximum wage spread) they attracted the kind of people that had a similar mind set to Ben and Jerry. Employing the right people got the company very far. However, no matter how smart and motivated the people are, eventually, without the right leadership and without the right strategy, a company cannot prosper.
            Ben & Jerry’s is a perfect example of David Collis’ pile of iron filings analogy. When the pile is small, most of the filings will point in the same direction out of sheer necessity to accommodate the company goal of making ice cream. As the company grows, however, in the absence of a clear strategy there is room for the filings to point in whatever direction they please. Eventually the inconsistencies between the employees’ opinions of what is best for the company and what should be done (due to lack of an overall strategy) start to negatively impact the company, as we saw with Ben & Jerry’s. As competition in the market increased, the company was unsure of what to do and had to turn to a new CEO that would help develop a real strategy, even in the presence of the right people.

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