After more than 20 years working for brands like Dove, Ben & Jerry’s, and Hershey, I’m convinced the key to business growth is the same in any industry

Todd Tillemans, President of Hershey US.

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Todd Tillemans, President of Hershey US.
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Courtesy of Hershey

  • Todd Tillemans is the president of Hershey US. Before Hershey, he worked at Unilever, on brands like Dove and Ben & Jerry’s.
  • After more than 20 years in business, he’s convinced that companies of the future won’t be able to grow until they get clear on one thing: their purpose.
  • He’s found that a clear purpose serves society in meaningful and relevant ways, but also accelerates growth.
  • This article is part of Business Insider’s ongoing series on Better Capitalism.

Working for a purpose-driven company has always been important to me.

For more than 20 years at Unilever, I helped drive purpose narratives for Dove and Ben & Jerry’s. Now finding my home at Hershey, I passionately believe that companies that have an authentic purpose at their core are set for the most long-standing success in business. It’s this purpose that inspires the actions of an organization, its partners and key stakeholders around shared values and the unique way they serve society.

When talking about purpose, to clarify, I am not talking about corporate social responsibility programs – these days, that’s table stakes for almost every company. It’s so much more than that.

Purpose is the why you exist – the whats (products, programs, policies) are proof points. They demonstrate who you are and what you stand for. This is what drew me so strongly to Hershey – a company that recognizes profits are a byproduct of establishing its place in the industry and around the world.

For example, during the Great Depression, our founder Milton S. Hershey allocated the company’s profits to build a town in Pennsylvania with housing and cultural attractions (i.e. theatre, gardens, hotel). In the short-term, he helped create jobs for the community; in the long-term, he created a town that has become a family destination and continues to be a significant economic driver for the region today.

Much like I did at Unilever, it is part of my personal mission to integrate purpose into everything we do at Hershey to serve society in meaningful and relevant ways – something I also believe will accelerate growth. When I was at Unilever, we found that brands with a well-articulated purpose, or why, grew twice as fast as those without. The Dove brand and its Real Beauty campaign is a powerful example of this. The campaign had an amazing 10-year run of growth across the Dove portfolio from $2.5 to $4 billion in sales.

I firmly believe that moving forward, businesses will not be given the permission to grow without purpose. Why? When employees – who are the greatest ambassadors of a company – align through a clear purpose and vision, we see a positive work environment and a sense of personal achievement. When employees are driven by purpose, the products and services created are all the more authentic and valuable to consumers and the community.

My good friend Nick Craig explores the power of purpose in his new book, “Leading from Purpose.” In it, Nick generously describes my own journey to discovering purpose and shares the statement I use to describe my purpose: “To be Buzz Lightyear, inspiring others to know no bounds, take bold action, and achieve great things.” As I’ve learned from Nick, having a meaningful purpose statement helps make your personal purpose relatable to those around you.

The same can be said for corporate purpose. Yet often, companies or brands struggle in the search for their purpose or in the process of expressing it through their actions. What can they do?

Here is my advice for a company or brand facing this struggle:

  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. In Hershey’s case, it’s that consumers crave connections and shared experiences.
  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 by establishing a shared human truth with consumers.

While the ways of expressing it may be 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.

As Hershey’s US President, Todd Tillemans leads the company’s flagship US business, including its brand marketing, sales and go-to-market teams. Todd’s passion lies in nurturing iconic brands, accelerating growth, building talent and teams, and continuing to enrich the purpose-driven legacy of The Hershey Company.