What we can learn from Hershey during this time of crisis

He was a man of great compassion, ingenuity and philanthropy, particularly during difficult times. Can you or your business do the same?

David FullerMilton Hershey had a couple of failed attempts at business before he founded and built the empire of Hershey Chocolate Co.

If the story of Milton Hershey ended there, he would have been seen as a success and an inspiration to many.

However, there’s much more to Hershey than just a successful business, because he was a man who cared about his employees and his communities!

Started in 1886, Hershey Chocolate had success making and selling cocoa, syrup and chocolate.

But because Hershey knew that happy employees were key to his success long before Disney or Google became famous for taking care of employees, the company built a community with housing, schools and parks to look after his workers between the years 1903 and 1905.

In 1909, he opened a school for orphaned boys to give them opportunities similar to more advantaged children.

However, the deciding difference Milton Hershey made in many people’s lives was during the Great Depression.

Between 1929 and 1939, the stock market crashed, jobs were hard to come by and men travelled the country on the tops of trains to find even a week’s work in order to support their families.

Hershey decided he needed to help people through the crisis and started building. He’s quoted as saying, “There are 600 men here who need jobs. If I don’t give them work, I will have to feed them.”

So he did! He built hotels, golf courses and skating rinks in his community.

At one point, when he saw two excavators on site, he asked the foreman what was going on. The man proudly announced that this latest technology was going to save time and money because it could do the work of 40 men. Hershey was dismayed and demanded that the excavators be removed so they could put 80 men back to work.

So what can we do as business leaders in this time of economic crisis that will make a difference?

The obvious achievement would be to put people to work, so we need to do that if we can. Before you lay people off, think about all those tasks you’ve been putting off for weeks, months and years. Why not try to get them done during this quiet time?

Invest in your future. Hershey came out of the Great Depression much better than he went into it because of his investments in people and assets.

Use your money wisely to develop your teams, your marketing, and your sales and service materials.

Once the economy is rolling again, you’ll have an advantage on your competition, who have been complacent and waiting for handouts.

Think about supporting other business owners who aren’t as fortunate as you are.

The Professional Business Coaches Alliance of Canada has offered its services to help business owners who are affected economically by COVID-19 crisis. What could you do that might benefit other business owners and keep people working?

Many businesses are struggling. Order in from a local small restaurant. Think about what other purchases you can have delivered to your home or office from a local business.

Use your wisdom to share ideas that will improve your business community or give moral support to those around you.

Hershey stepped up when times were tough and made a difference in the lives and families of the people he hired and businesses he supported.

Yes, he made money during the Depression from his economic activities. But even in death he was generous, creating a foundation to continue his work.

What can you do now that will make a difference for your employees and for the community at large?

Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award winning business coach and a partner in the firm Pivotleader Inc. Comments on business at this time? Email dave@pivotleader.com

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