Former Ben & Jerry’s Tour Guide Dave Stever Is Its New CEO | Business | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Former Ben & Jerry’s Tour Guide Dave Stever Is Its New CEO

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Published May 31, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.


Dave Stever - COURTESY
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  • Dave Stever

Ben & Jerry's has put its localvore values into action by promoting a 34-year employee who rose through its ranks to be the company's CEO.

Dave Stever started as a tour guide at the Ben & Jerry's Waterbury factory in 1988. He eventually assumed the role of chief marketing officer, a position he held for 12 years. On May 8, the Ben & Jerry's board promoted him to the company's top position, saying Stever is strongly committed to advancing justice and equity in the world — the guiding mission of the premium ice cream brand. He'll oversee 650 employees in Vermont and the Netherlands.

"He knows Ben & Jerry's inside and out. He lives it and breathes it," company cofounder Ben Cohen said in a prepared statement. Cohen stepped down as CEO in 1994.

Stever, a Vermont native, earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Vermont in 1984 and a master's in business from Saint Michael's College in 1997.

Through a company spokesperson, Stever declined to speak with Seven Days. He succeeds Matthew McCarthy, who recently retired after five years in the top job.

As CEO, Stever will be in charge of an institution that has had a huge influence on the premium ice cream market, corporate social justice work and Vermont, where its Waterbury factory supports local dairy farmers by purchasing their milk and draws as many as 350,000 visitors a year.

Founded in 1978, Ben & Jerry's made it trendy to buy premium ice cream in a pint container, said Amy Huyffer, CEO at Strafford Organic Creamery, a family operation that produces about 2,000 pints of ice cream per week, as well as bottled milk.

"We didn't have to educate people why they should buy ice cream in a pint," said Huyffer, whose company started making ice cream in 2001. "That was the landscape we arrived in."

Now South Burlington-based Ben & Jerry's is a wholly owned subsidiary of the consumer products company Unilever. It is allowed to carry on its social mission, an effort led by an independent board of directors, and vocally supports progressive causes such as racial justice, reparations for descendants of slaves, campaign finance reform, gun control and LGBTQ+ rights.

The arrangement has created waves in the past few years. Ben & Jerry's independent board sued its owner, seeking to stop Unilever from selling the distribution rights of the ice cream brand in Israel to a local licensee.

Although Israel was one of the company's first overseas markets, cofounders Cohen and Jerry Greenfield wrote in a 2021 New York Times op-ed: "In our view, ending the sales of ice cream in the occupied territories is one of the most important decisions the company has made in its 43-year history."

The two sides settled the lawsuit in December.

Ben & Jerry's makes ice cream at its factories in Waterbury, St. Albans and the Netherlands, as well as at an independently owned factory in Israel. It sells the product in 35 countries.

Although the company signed on to Milk With Dignity, a farmworker-led human rights program, in 2017, it was mentioned in a Times story earlier this year about child workers in its supply chain.

In announcing Stever's hiring, the company stuck with the positives, noting that the Ben & Jerry's Foundation gave out $4.35 million in grants last year for justice-focused grassroots organizing. On Tuesday, Ben & Jerry's voluntarily recognized a unionization effort by some 40 employees at its flagship ice cream shop on Burlington's Church Street.

Stever is the first person promoted from within the company to the CEO position, said Sean Greenwood, whose official title is "grand poobah/director of PR and comms."

Greenwood, too, started out as a tour guide in 1988, and he also drove an ice cream truck to Ben & Jerry's events. At the time, just over 100 people worked at company headquarters in Waterbury, he said.

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