Tips From The Top: One On One With Todd Tillemans, U.S. President of Hershey

I spoke to Todd Tillemans, U.S. President of The Hershey Company, about his best advice

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Adam: What is something about you that would surprise people?

Todd: I’ve run five marathons for charity. The act of doing good for others was motivation for the mind over body discipline a marathon takes.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Todd: My mother raised my brother and me on her own. We were on food stamps, and at that time, a jar of peanut butter was something we really looked forward to. This experience gave me the drive to accomplish big things, to lead with empathy and has been at the heart of everything I have done – from being in the military to business school to my career today. I have always given my best.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Todd: Leaders can take their skills to the next level by building trust and practicing servant leadership, or serving employees and others. The more you advance as a leader, the more your achievement is the result of the work and success of others.

Take care of people. You lead through a balance of empathy and challenging people to reach their full potential. Point your passion and support into helping people get to new levels. Encourage them to look ahead to where they want to be in 3-5 years. As a leader, take the time to reflect with employees on what they’ve learned, where they grew, what they achieved, and where they want to go next. Acknowledge that what got us to this point won’t necessarily get us where we want to go next is helpful for the future of the business and important for employee’s career trajectory.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?


1.Be clear about your own purpose. It should be authentic, meaningful, grounded and foundational to your values. And then be clear about how your role connects to your organization’s goals.

2.Be bold. Look at business through the lens of the insurgent. This approach will make you more effective and compelling and push you to stay relevant.

3.Be a team player. Power comes from people within the organization. Sharing values and winning behaviors between employees will drive high performing teams.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Todd: When I worked in Europe, I was responsible for marketing across fifty countries. My boss told me to go a day early to each country when I had business travel so that I could spend a half day at retail and a half day in people’s homes. If you consistently immerse yourself where the real choices are made, it changes the materialization of your work. This perspective will give you a palpable feel of the experience of those in the market you are trying to reach and a depth of inquiry that you will never get from the meeting room alone.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Todd: Anyone can do little things to pay it forward. What is important is to think about where you spend your time and where you give your presence. Your time is your most valuable asset. Whether it is volunteering at your child’s school, scouting or a food pantry – be mindful of where you spend the most time as that reflects in what is most meaningful to you, and the recipient. It is a double reward.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Todd: My biggest hobby is adventure travel with my family. Seeing the world while learning and growing together is invaluable. Experiencing the world as a family helps us all to see it through different eyes and perspectives. In a small family dynamic, you see how the same event can be internalized and viewed in different ways, which helps to lead with empathy.

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