There are no job applications at Greyston Bakery. No background screenings, no interviews, no reference checks. Instead, getting a job at this 35-year-old bakery in Yonkers, New York, requires nothing more than a name and a phone number on a no-frills list. When a job comes up, the next person in line gets a call. No questions asked.
“We don’t hire people to make brownies,” said Jonathan Halperin, the bakery’s head of external affairs and founder of consulting firm Designing Sustainability. “We make brownies to hire people.”
It’s called open hiring, and it holds the promise of providing equal access to employment for all, including those often excluded from the job market like formerly incarcerated individuals, immigrants and refugees. Speaking to an audience at this month’s Fourth Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit, Halperin described how this “hybrid social enterprise” has operated an open hiring model since its 1982 founding by Bernie Glassman, a former aeronautical engineer who became a Buddhist monk. The company is currently led by CEO and president Mike Brady.
“As businesspeople, that means that we are people doing business,” Halperin said. “But the people part does have to come first. Having a purpose is essential for us in so many ways. At a species level, we are wired to create, to make, to build.”
Greyston was the first certified Benefit Corporation (B Corp) in the state of New York in 2008, and in 2017 received 138 out of 200 on its impact assessment report, well above the average score of 80 and qualifying it as a “Best for the World” honoree. The company churns out 35,000 pounds of brownies a day that supply Ben & Jerry’s — where you’ll find Greyston’s brownies in the Chocolate Fudge Brownie and other ice cream blends — and Whole Foods.
The next step in Greyston’s evolution, said Halperin, is “moving from a place-based company to a practice-based company.” It’s fostered a community around the business that includes low-income housing, an early learning center, workforce development programs, internships and a community garden. “It’s where business innovation and social inclusion come together,” he said.
Now the company is creating a Center for Open Hiring, which it describes as a “collaborative learning space facilitating the widespread adoption of Open Hiring and supporting innovation in the delivery of community programs for employees and neighbors,” as well as an Association for Open Hiring to set standards and promote best practices in the field.
Halperin pointed to the example of Dion Drew, a Greyston Bakery trainer who regularly speaks about his experience there. Drew grew up in the projects, turning to the streets to make ends meet and spending his years in and out of prison from the age of 17. After his last release, he searched for a job, but he was constantly turned away because of his criminal record. Now six years into his employment at Greyston, Dion spreads the word whenever he has an opportunity that the job saved his life.
“If Dion can do what he has as a man,” Halperin challenged the audience, “think of what we can do as business leaders.”