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Social Impact

The Importance of Purpose-Driven Growth to Your Business

Todd Tillemans
President of U.S., The Hershey Company

Purpose in business is a topic I have long been passionate about. After 23 years at Unilever, joining Hershey put a fine point on the role I see myself playing in accelerating Hershey along its purpose-driven journey. It’s clear to me that businesses in the future will not be given the permission to grow without purpose.

“It is part of my personal mission to integrate purpose into everything we do at The Hershey Company.”

We’re lucky in that our founder, Milton S. Hershey, was a community builder with a focus on helping future generations succeed.  He built a vibrant, culturally rich community around a powerful company and built a school for disadvantaged youth to help them become contributing members of society. Both the school he established, the Milton Hershey School, and the town of Hershey continue to thrive today. Our employees are both contributors and beneficiaries of what Milton Hershey built.

Given our founding in 1894, we are undoubtedly the original purpose-driven company. Our founder, was a remarkable social entrepreneur. His commitment to doing well by doing good stands the test of time as evidenced by Hershey’s #6 ranking of most loved brands by Millennials in the recent Morning Consult report.

What we see today, however, is that many small, insurgent brands are finding success by activating their purpose commercially. For me, brands like Burt’s Bees, Seventh Generation and Warby Parker come to mind. It is part of my personal mission to integrate purpose into everything we do at The Hershey Company to serve society in meaningful and relevant ways, and to accelerate growth.

“It’s clear to me that businesses in the future will not be given the permission to grow without purpose.”

The very first task at hand is - and will always be - to grow our business. The health and prosperity of our brands directly enables us to make a unique and significant impact in the world. I also believe that activating our purpose will accelerate growth. It’s a virtuous cycle.

This is something my good friend and author, Nick Craig, explores in his new book, Leading from Purpose. In it, I share my purpose: “To be Buzz Lightyear, inspiring others to know no bounds, take bold action, and achieve great things.” Just because you work at a Fortune 500 company, does not mean you can’t have fun with your purpose statement. It helps make your personal purpose relatable to those around you. No one wants to read a jargon-filled purpose statement.

At Unilever, we found that brands with a well-articulated purpose grew twice as fast as those without. The Dove brand is a powerful example of this. Its Real Beauty campaign kicked off an amazing 10-year run of growth across the Dove portfolio.

As Hershey approaches its 125th anniversary, our corporate brand and flagship Hershey’s brand will share a fresh perspective on the unique roles the company and brand play in society. I couldn’t be more excited to share this work with you in the coming months.

This leads me to my advice for a company or brand that is searching for its purpose or struggling with how to activate it:

  1. Ground your purpose in a human truth. Your purpose should be something easily understood and experienced by your consumer. In Dove’s case it was the human truth that most women don’t feel beautiful because of beauty stereotypes and societal expectations.
  2. Allow your employees to find their purpose. I often say that personal development leads to business development. If you put an emphasis on employees finding their purpose, you’ll be amazed at how quickly those individual instruments become an orchestra of purpose-driven growth.
  3. Set measurable goals & find partners. Purpose isn’t just about a marketing campaign. It’s underpinned by real, measurable goals set by your organization around moving the needle to impact society.
  4. Live your purpose together as ONE team. Recently, Hershey hosted its annual all employee-volunteerism program, Good to Give Back Week, which culminated in our fifth annual Rise Against Hunger meal-packing event.

I kicked off the high-energy meal-packing event reminding nearly 800 employees in the room that our purpose is enduring. Our company was built on a foundation of creating connection – through our iconic brands, with our remarkable employees and our legacy of helping children to succeed. The meals we packed will help nourish children in El Salvador. When children are fed, they have the capacity to focus on their studies and dream bigger about their place in the world.

My final thought – your brands and company each have a role to play. Your company will live your purpose in big ways setting lofty goals that will inspire sustained change over 10, 20, 50 or 100 years. Your brands create the doorways to accelerate meaningful change through establishing a shared human truth with consumers.

While the activation is slightly different, the foundational purpose is the same. You’re marching in the same direction, and hopefully leaving the world a bit better than you found it.