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    Influencer Series | 4 min read

    Ben Conard | Founder at Five North Chocolate

    For his work in the movement, Fairtrade International named Ben one of the Top 10 Biggest Fair Trade Advocates in the World and #1 in the U.S. His passion for fair trade has taken him to the TEDx stage and on-the-ground to fair trade farms in Ecuador and artisan workshops in India. 

    Ben celebrates all cultures and people. As a US Ambassador for the 33rd Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, Ben spent a year in Germany representing the US to strengthen diplomatic relations. And as a human rights activist, he was named 40 LGBT Leaders Under 40 by Business Equality Magazine. 

    Dedicated to great taste, consumer health, and sustainable sourcing, Ben founded Five North Chocolate®, an award winning, Certified LGBT Business Enterprise® supporting cacao farmers around the world by creating deliciously nutritious, Fair Trade Certified™ chocolate snacks. 

    Q: What triggered you to start the Five North Chocolate project?

    Ben: As a(n idealistic) senior in college at SUNY Geneseo, I had an idea that would change the candy industry for the better... I wanted to create guiltless chocolate indulgences! So, I designed convenient bite-sized snacks with 72% cacao and fun superfood flavors like Pistachio Sea Salt packaged into resealable pouches! After a trip to Ecuador visiting cacao farmers, we partnered with Fair Trade USA to make sure that we could create real impact with farmers on the ground. 

    Q: How you would describe your company culture?

    Ben: We are a start-up. Small, lean, and hungry! I'm actually the only full-time team member. We have great relationships with our production crew, mentors, advisors, accounts, and partner organizations -- all of whom we consider a vital part of the team :) And we're ready to grow!

    Q: What are some challenges or trends you see in hiring today? 

    Ben: The timing of this question is oddly relevant. I was recently named the North American CEO for One Month at The Adecco Group, the world's largest staffing agency. As 1 of 9 finalists for the competition with more than 17,000 applicants, I participated in their bootcamp at the HQ in Jacksonville, FL. And as the winner, I will go on to visit various divisions and work with the the leadership and c-suite teams to understand how this Fortune 500 company works. During a time when the unemployment rate in the US is one of the lowest it has ever been and as we are seeing trends like AI and shifts in the gig economy on the horizon, I, too, will be curious to see the future of hiring talent.

    Q: Who inspires you and why?

    Ben: My best friend, Scott Chauncey, inspires me every day. Scott's combined work ethic and attitude about life is a recipe for success. He has taught me how to be entrepreneurial, why to invest in myself, and when to push myself to be better. And he has taught me great lessons like how to love the little things in life while reaching for bigger goals.

    Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

    Ben: Ask for forgiveness, not permission. I follow my gut and while this doesn't always work seamlessly, it has led to some great achievements. And this attitude continues to inspire me to find more opportunities in unlikely places. 

    Like becoming the first brand ever to feature the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce seal on a packaged good. There was no roadmap on making this a reality and certainly no blueprint on how to communicate this with your customers. I had an idea and wanted to bring it to market. Everything in between was figure-out-able (a phrase I am borrowing from my good friend Martin Soloranzo... thanks, Martin!).

    Q: Have you ever had an hourly job? If yes, please share with us your experience.

    Ben: My first hourly job was beach clean-up as a teenager. I picked up trash, mowed grass, and raked up straw. It was a hot, summer job but I learned to appreciate relaxing at the beach on a whole new level.

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