January 9, 2017 – The Hershey Company retained Egon Zehnder this past year to assist with its CEO succession plan. Just before the holidays, that search process concluded with the appointment of the chocolate maker’s chief operating officer Michele Buck as its new leader. She will succeed John P. Bilbrey, who previously announced his intention to retire from the company.
“Michele is a proven leader who, during 11 years at Hershey and more than 25 years as an executive in the consumer packaged goods industry, has a demonstrated track record of building brands consumers love while bringing out the best in employees amid a rapidly changing business environment,” said Mr. Bilbrey. “She has consistently displayed a keen sense for how to grow our iconic brands. The unanimous vote by the board is a testament to the confidence we have in Michele as the next leader of this great company.”
“As the board contemplated the right strategic leader for the next great chapter in Hershey’s history, it quickly became apparent that Michele offered the right mix of outstanding vision and proven execution to continue taking our company forward,” said Pamela Arway, chair of the governance committee of Hershey’s board of directors and chair of the board’s special committee overseeing the CEO succession process.
Since joining the company in 2005, Ms. Buck has spearheaded the development and execution of many successful growth initiatives and strategic shifts at the company, most notably Hershey’s substantial growth in its core confection portfolio as it moved from a supply- to demand-driven business model. She was the architect of the company’s strategy to expand into broader snacking categories and oversaw the acquisitions of KRAVE and barkThins brands. According to insiders, she is a proven people leader and a champion of the Hershey culture through her ability to inspire, develop and connect with employees and customers.
Insiders are ‘Safer Bets’
According to recruiters focused on landing talent for the C-suite, at least half of all job openings are filled by internal candidates before they’re ever introduced to the public job market — suggesting, perhaps, that companies have relatively reliable bench strength even though leadership development is seen as stagnating at many companies. The main reason given: companies prefer to promote from within.
And for those searches that go to recruiters to manage, with a clear mandate to look wide and deep both inside and outside a client organization, internal candidates still surface more often and get the job about 80 percent of the time.
Recruiters say clients generally like to be seen as making bold moves, but at the end of the day many remain risk averse when it comes to hiring elite executives, especially into their highly protected upper leadership ranks. They therefore look at insiders as safer bets. Ms. Buck clearly fell into this category. Knowing this mindset going in, recruiters say they advise their clients that have an inside candidate who is 70 percent as strong as an outside choice to hire the insider. Fit and culture seem to be the deciding factor.
“There is a greater risk when you bring somebody in from the outside that it won’t work out,” said Kathleen Yazbak, founder of Boston-based Viewcrest Advisors, a boutique search firm focused on finding leadership talent for mission-driven and high-performing companies, social enterprises and philanthropies. Ms. Yazbak is a former recruiter for Heidrick & Struggles, Whitehead Mann, and Ridgeway Partners.
Internal candidates know the business model, organization goals and inside cultures, say recruiters, and oftentimes they have the requisite skills required. They know the customers, clients, and fellow co-workers. They also have established relationships with colleagues and their organization’s leaders — but, more importantly, they have already demonstrated their potential. They can, therefore, assimilate faster and will be likely more satisfied in their new roles than outside hires.
Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media