2012 Conference: Hershey chairman counsels the practice of commerce with compassion
James Nevels, chairman of the Board of Directors of The Hershey Company, addressed a general session of the 2012 International Corporate Citizenship Conference and shared a story of Hershey’s corporate citizenship and his personal journey.
Nevels spoke of his own business philosophy and the values he brings to the Hershey board. As a young boy in Alabama he learned ethical principles from his grandfather – a nickel-a-week salesman of burial insurance policies – when he was given the job of recording payments. The lessons he took away from that experience and that he continues to apply in his investment advisory firm, The Swarthmore Group, and as chairman of the Hershey board, are as follows:
No. 1 – “Never ask someone to do something you would not do yourself.”
No. 2 – “Tell the truth to your clients. If you do lie, you’ll have a helluva time remembering what you told them if you didn’t tell them the truth to begin with.”
No. 3 – “Provide value in all shapes and forms,” meaning, “be a good neighbor, be a responsible business person, and be an individual who cares about those around them.”
Nevels added one other admonition from his grandfather: You do well by doing good. He compared this last piece of advice to the legacy of Hershey founder Milton S. Hershey, who described his philosophy as “commerce with compassion.” That philosophy was embodied early with the founding in 1909 of the Milton Hershey School. Originally intended to provide a home and school for orphan boys, today that school provides a cost-free co-educational home and school for children from families of low income, and social need.
Hershey’s contribution to community today extends well beyond its Pennsylvania roots to West Africa, where farmers grow the cocoa used to make Hershey’s chocolate. Many of those farmers live in impoverished conditions, still using the same growing practices as their grandfathers. As a result, the cocoa farmers in West Africa do not produce as much cocoa per acre of farm land as do farmers in Malaysia and Indonesia. At the same time, the global demand for chocolate and chocolate products is growing by 3 to 4 percent per year, according to Nevels.
Hershey is now part of a partnership with the Ghana Cocoa Board and the World Cocoa Foundation to help improve the yield of cocoa farms and the farmers’ lives. This includes an innovative program in Ghana called CocoaLink, which uses cell phones to provide farmers with previously difficult to access information on weather, farming techniques, and market information.
“I am happy to announce today that CocoaLink is on track to reach 25,000 Ghanaian farmers by the end of this year,” Nevels said, noting there is hope of reaching 100,000 farmers in about three years.
While improving cocoa farming in Ghana is one concern, companies such as Hershey face continuing scrutiny about the issue of child labor on cocoa farms. Hershey has been tackling the issue for years in tandem with its industry association but Nevels noted “it’s clear to all of us that much more needs to be done.”
This issue is a particularly personal one for Nevels, an African-American who visited the coast of Ghana and learned about the ordeal of his ancestors who were enslaved from those very same shores. “Why would I want to be part of any effort that would continue to enslave my kinsmen?” he asked rhetorically. “I would not! We’re working on that complex problem.”