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Acquiring a company? You may have a lot to learn

In the process of one company’s acquisition of another, there’s often an assumption that the purchased company will simply adapt to its new parent by becoming homogenized and abandoning much of its former culture. But there’s usually plenty that a company can learn from the business it’s acquiring.

Take the purchase of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream by Unilever, a multinational consumer goods company. As the third-largest in the world behind Procter & Gamble and Nestle, Unilever could most definitely be classified as big business. Yet the founders of Ben & Jerry’s very publicly supported the Occupy Wall Street movement, without any repercussions from its parent company. Co-founder Jerry Greenfield says that the company has, in fact, been very supportive. “Sometimes I’m a little surprised at how supportive Unilever is,” he said.

Rather than stifling the smaller company’s culture or innovation, Unilever appears to be benefiting by encouraging and adopting Ben & Jerry’s practices of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Unilever launched its Sustainable Living Plan in November 2010 with the hopes of cutting its environmental impact in half while doubling its sales over the next decade — something it might not have been inspired to do without Ben & Jerry’s under its wing. Greenfield downplays his company’s influence on its parent company, but is happy to see corporations make any green efforts — such as reductions in energy, waste and packaging — no matter who takes the credit.

The next step is injecting social responsibility into everything the company does. Greenfield says that while it’s nice to see large corporations give away money to important causes, the real power of a business is in how it conducts its everyday operations — “integrating environmental concerns right in the day-to-day activities,” from ingredient sourcing to banking and marketing. It all matters, and companies have the power to inspire each other — particularly when they merge to form a bigger business that influences even more companies.

Source: BBC News, “Did Ben & Jerry’s change Unilever?” Anthony Reuben, May 23, 2012

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