Sweet! The Hershey Company is the largest producer of chocolate in North America and a global leader in chocolate and sugar confectionery. With revenues of more than $6.6 billion in 2012, Hershey offers much-loved products under more than 80 brand names, including such iconic brands as Hershey’s, Reese’s, Kit Kat, Twizzlers and Jolly Rancher.
But the industry giant started inauspiciously enough with a rural farm boy lacking a formal education who apprenticed to a Lancaster, Pennsylvania candy maker. Milton S. Hershey went on to become not only one of America’s wealthiest individuals, but also a successful entrepreneur whose products are known the world over, a visionary builder of the town that bears his name, and a philanthropist whose open-hearted generosity continues to touch the lives of thousands.
I recently enjoyed reading a biography of this intriguing man (Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D’Antonio). Here are a couple of exemplary lessons from his life for our mutual inspiration:
Persistent Improver. As a young entrepreneur, Milton Hershey failed repeatedly as a candy maker in Lancaster, Philadelphia, Denver, Chicago, and New York City. After 14 years, he returned home to Lancaster and started over once again, this time improving on a recipe for caramels he learned in Colorado. His successful Lancaster Caramel Company became an early model for production line methods that Henry Ford later perfected.
Risk-Taker and Self-Believer. After selling the caramel company to a competitor for $1 million in 1900, he invested all his energies in developing a new concoction then finding favor in Europe: milk chocolate. Without even knowing how to produce a marketable milk chocolate recipe or a process for a stable and consistent chocolate bar, he bought the necessary equipment and began construction on a new factory.
Fearless Experimenter. Even after he was very wealthy and successful, Milton remained a tinkerer, always on the lookout for new products and productivity. But he was never afraid to fail in his open-minded experiments—like his ill-fated attempts to boost vitamins in his chocolate by mixing in turnips, parsley, beets, and even celery! Nor did he complain of the costs associated with such experiments.
Foresighted Planner and Builder. As a social progressive who transformed his philosophies into realities, he constructed a company town for his workers that thrived devoid of problems associated with other utopian enterprises of the times. The picturesque settlement of 14,000 residents today takes pride in its uniquely attractive design, and the livability and lifestyle it affords. Dubbed “The Sweetest Place on Earth,” its other popular attractions include Hersheypark, Hersheypark Stadium, ZooAmerica, Hershey Gardens, as well as the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
Visionary Provider. Unable with this wife Catherine to have children of their own, Milton founded a school for orphan boys in 1909, and later donated his entire fortune to a foundation to administer the school. Today, with assets of more than $10 billion (more than that of most universities!), the coeducational school provides a free world-class education, as well as meals, clothing, a nurturing home, health care, counseling, and career training to nearly 2,000 children in social and financial need.
MasterPoint: Dream Big. Try Big. Live Big. Leave Big.