Social Impact

Profit and Purpose: An Oxymoron? Hershey President Todd Tillemans Says No

One of the topics that Hershey U.S. President Todd Tillemans is passionate about is purpose in business. So it was an honor for him when, in late September, he was invited to The World Innovation Network (TWIN) Global conference in Chicago to share his thoughts on that very topic.

The conference, which is in it 10th year, draws remarkable minds from around the world. Past and present keynote speakers are a veritable “who’s who” in innovation: Nobel Peace Prize winner/past president of the Republic of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos, former vice chair of GE Beth Comstock, Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper and more.

Tillemans spoke on a panel, participating in a conversation with Peter Bryant, who is managing partner with Clareo and co-founder of TWIN Global; and Anne Black, who is president of Goldman Sachs Gives and managing director of Goldman Sachs. Here’s what Tillemans had to say about people, profit and purpose.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Peter Bryant: Michele Buck, the CEO of Hershey, said in an article that Hershey was actually the original purpose-driven company. Todd, why don’t you explain that to us?

Todd Tillemans: I think this is a good question, because the way we look at it, purpose isn’t corporate social responsibility. It’s much broader than that. With The Hershey Company it goes back to our founder, Milton Hershey, who had a belief that to do well, you had to do good. It was this idea of community, and bringing people together and thinking much more holistically. At that time, chocolate was reserved for the wealthy, and he had this vision of bringing the goodness of chocolate—which warms your heart and melts the distance between people—and making it common. And as he did that, he built housing, he built entertainment, he built healthcare and created a community.

When we talk about purpose, it’s the idea of why do you exist? And it’s much more than just giving remuneration or in a monetary way. It’s thinking about what role do you provide in society? As I joined on as president of Hershey, I went to our factory in West Hershey and our head of supply chain took a detour and took me to the top of a hill and it was Milton Hershey’s final resting place. From there, you saw the community, you saw this powerhouse business and you saw this school that helps underprivileged children succeed and prosper. There are now 2,100 children in the school and it’s really quite amazing. It’s palpable if you’ve come to Hershey. The way we look at is that we’re continuing that legacy. On September 13, we launched a new campaign for the Hershey's brand, which is our flagship brand, and that is all about “heartwarming” the world. The idea is that when you get a Hershey's bar, you get not one but two—one for you to enjoy and one for you to pay it forward. It’s amazing when you do that—the smiles and connections it creates. It’s really about bringing people together. I think that’s an enduring purpose.

PB: In a world where people don’t trust corporations, how do you do that in an authentic way and keep that consistent over time?

TT: One of the recent surveys by Morning Consult had the 25 brands most loved by Millennials, and Hershey was no. 6 and among Gen Z it’s no. 5. It’s there, but it’s because of the authentic way that we run the business at every touchpoint and less the fact that we’ve talked about it. We’ve always had a bit of a reservation there. We do good and we let that show itself vs. using it to promote the business. The beauty is when you have a history of being authentic for 125 years, you can carry that forward, you can keep the trust you see in these surveys and continue to build on it. I think some of the legacy large businesses are going to be challenged because the start-ups start as the insurgent, challenging these conventions and bringing a balance. There’s certainly a connection between doing good and doing well. There’s a commercial value. And that’s important because otherwise you can’t sustain this over time.

PB: Let’s talk about employees. What role do employees play in a purpose-driven company?

TT: I think this is essential. I don’t think you’re authentic and purpose-driven if you don’t have it deeply rooted and in the heart of the employees. Our employees are deeply connected with the history, the purpose, the vision of the company. And they’re involved. We closed our sales offices and led everyone out on the street on Milton Hershey’s birthday, and it’s remarkable. It’s of course affecting consumers, it’s affecting our retail partners. But it comes back in terms of cohesiveness, passion for the company and performance. We’re working now to make sure individuals have done enough introspection to understand their purpose and how their purpose connects with the Hershey purpose. And the more you can do that I think is where you get full potential.

People are not there to punch a ticket. They have ability and they want to be there to really be fully present and to be valued. When their values and the values of the company align is when you have real magic.


Kate Silver

Want more Hershey?

Sign up for our Newsletter.