"Whether you’re cleaning the streets, a teacher, or working at a company—you’re providing something to society that we can all benefit from. And isn’t that what community is all about? It’s us working together, using our talents to provide something: to your neighbor, company, and society—that’s what this organization has been all about. And, it’s a purpose. And there’s nothing like finding your purpose."
— Joe Kenner, CEO and President of Greyston
Joe Kenner, CEO and President of Greyston
Greyston is truly one-of-a-kind. Located just a few short miles away from our factory in New Rochelle, the Yonkers-based bakery does a lot more than cook up some of the best brownies you’ve ever had. In their two-pronged business approach, they have created a successful bakery that not only provides the baked goods for every pint of Ben & Jerry’s flavors (Yes, as in Half Baked!), but have also founded a social justice enterprise intent on providing opportunity and an equal shot at employment to those who typically aren’t given that chance through their Center for Open Hiring.
From the start of the business over 38 years ago, Greyston has implemented an open hiring policy—and it is just as radical, innovative and forward-thinking as it sounds. But what exactly does “open hiring” mean? Well, when you apply for a job, an employer is entitled to inquire if you have ever been convicted of a crime or felony. They also often require things like resumes or recommendations. These standardized practices disqualify and often deter people who have been in prison and don’t have professional experience or job-seeking skills from applying in the first place.
An open hiring policy means that this unfair and often discriminatory question is never asked—in fact, there is no interview process for entry-level jobs. All that is expected from you? Show up on time and be a hard worker with a willingness to learn.
By shifting the collective consciousness around hiring practices, Greyston is able to offer employment and a steady income to a group of people who ordinarily face rejection. And by (smartly) using their own bakery as an example, the Greyston Foundation has been able to show exactly how to implement this hiring practice and in turn, its positive impact on the business and the community at large. The goal now is to get other companies to do it too. “We’re kind of unique in the sense that we don’t want to be unique anymore. And we want other folks to practice what we are doing,” explains Greyston CEO and President Joe Kenner.
Below, hear more from TIDAL co-founder, Tim Gibb and Greyston CEO Joe Kenner about the history of the bakery, what we can learn from it at this particular moment in time and how evolving hiring practices can benefit literally millions of people.
Tim Gibb: As the person at the helm of Greyston. I’d love to hear a bit about how you made it to Greyston and what your journey was like.
Joe Kenner: That’s a long story, but it’s funny how life comes together. I always say “I am a hybrid working for a hybrid.” [At Greyston,] we have the non-profit and the for-profit. I have experience in corporate America, working at Fortune 500 companies and Wall Street for 15 or 16 years. After that, I left the corporate world to work in government. I served on the Westchester county executive as a senior advisor for four years and then as the deputy commissioner of social services for the county for four years. All the while, I was also an elected official in my local government for, oh boy, almost ten years.
At the time, I was running a conference called “New York Fathering Conference.” Every year we would have guests speak to people in the industry dealing with low-income fathers that are on public assistance or looking for workforce development training. One year, we asked a guy named Mike Brady, who was President and CEO of Greyston at the time, to speak to our group. That was one of my first entrees into Greyston. I got to see the inner workings of the place—I saw the bakery, I saw the workforce development, and met the team here. I connected with Mike again and he mentioned that Greyston was looking for a Vice President of Programs and Partnerships. So I reached out and as they say, the rest is history. I had that job for just over two years up until my appointment in April.
Why is community so important to Greyston? What is it about local communities in your opinion that is so quintessential to the heart and soul of this business?
Community is really what motivated our founder, Bernie Glassman (a Brooklyn-born Zen Buddhism teacher), to start Greyston in the first place. At the time of founding Greyston, there was so much neglect of our fellow brothers and sisters—and Bernie saw that as a loss to society because we know and believe that everybody has something to contribute. We believe in this thing called path making; that you have something to contribute, and we’ll invest in that. We just ask that you do the same. By doing that, everybody benefits. The community benefits. You benefit because you found your purpose. We benefit because we’re now getting a taste of your expertise. Whether you’re cleaning the streets, a teacher, or working at a company—you’re providing something to society that we can all benefit from. And isn’t that what community is all about? It’s us working together, using our talents to provide something: to your neighbor, company, and society in general—that’s what this organization has been all about. And, it’s a purpose. And there’s nothing like finding your purpose.
Greyston’s stated mission is to create “a world where individuals are defined by their potential, not their circumstances.” Why is this vision so important not just for Greyston but for all of us?
This is really the next iteration. If you look at how Greyston has grown—we started in 1982, we partnered with Ben & Jerry’s in 1987, we became a B Corp in 2012 and we’ve been doing well with our programs in terms of the benefit we provide for the community. We’re kind of unique in the sense that we don’t want to be unique anymore. And we want others to practice what we are doing, which is called open hiring. That’s the next phase in terms of pushing out the mission, seeing it replicated. That was the whole purpose of the Center for Open Hiring. It opens that door of opportunity and access—and if we can multiply that provision, that truly changes the dynamic. Economically, socially, everything changes with that.
Some might have reservations about implementing an open hiring policy for their businesses and on-boarding people with past criminal records. What’s the point that you drive home to those that have trepidation towards bringing on anybody that has a “record”? What do you say to convince them otherwise?
I think what we first have to do is just acknowledge it. Just acknowledge that it’s a radically different way to hire people, let’s be clear about that. We’re breaking a tradition here that’s decades old. HR professionals are used to interviews and background checks. We acknowledge that there is a concern and that [open hiring] is a new way of doing things. But then look at how we’ve done it at Greyston for 38 years and examine how we have actually opened the door for folks. I don't look for returning citizens, I don’t look for recovery folks or veterans. You and myself—we could put our names on the list. And if that position becomes available and we’re next: we get it.
But, that doesn't mean that once someone comes into the organization through this program, you toss out your other practices. In fact, all of those traditional employment practices must still continue. We’re just saying, do we really need to interview someone to be a baker? I just need you to show up on time, take instruction, and do a good job. And we’ll train you! What’s the interview for?
Current modes of corporatism tell us to maximize profits at all costs. How do we move away from this mentality?
If we continue with short term-ism, what does that mean for you as an organization? So you make your Q3 results, Q4 results in 2020—where will the company be in 2025? How are you building that long-term sustainability to keep your company around so that you can continue to deliver those returns well into the future? That’s great we made Q1 results, but if we’re not around for the long return, who is going to support those returns? This is not a zero sum game. It’s not profits forsaking the environment and social, it’s profit and environment and social impact. It is possible and not at any additional cost. There is a longer view, which you have to have. That’s just smart management to have a longer view because if you’re going to be making decisions where you’re cutting corners whether it’s ethically or environmentally, that’s not going to be good for you. Eventually it will catch up to you.
Last question for you. And this is the most important question of the whole talk! What’s your go-to order from the bakery?
Oh that’s easy. Brown sugar blondie. And for my Ben & Jerry’s folks, it’s Half Baked ice cream— I’ll take the fro-yo or regular. Either way, it’s the best.