The Hershey Company has long been a household name. Today, 120 years after it’s founding, the $6.6 billion candy maker has its sights on a new target: $10 billion by 2020. Leslie M. Turner, senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary, discusses how the management team’s vision is embedded in her legal team, as the entire company does its part to make the $10 billion goal a reality.
Let’s start by talking about your role at Hershey, and the team you developed starting in July 2012. How are you gearing up to help the company achieve its target?
Leslie Turner: We often talk about Hershey being the greatest confectionary company in the world, and I think that’s true. It’s been a terrific journey for me during this year, but I think we all know the role and responsibilities of general counsel and the legal team have changed dramatically over the past several years.
What does this new role look like for you and Hershey?
Turner: I think of it as a change—from giving business colleagues the “I hope that’s helpful” type of legal advice to being more of a strategic adviser to the business. The plans and goals for the company have to be the focus of the legal department. Our advice has to include understanding and supporting the strategy for continued company growth, which includes strengthening Hershey’s position in North America, growing in international markets, being able to expand our consumer scope and our portfolio, winning with knowledge, and executing with excellence.
The general counsel has always been an adviser, consulting on issues of risk and compliance. But the notion of a “strategic” adviser, as you said, is a newer evolution. How did you come to understand the value of this approach?
Turner: I gained a valuable insight earlier in my career about the importance of strategic advice to our business partners. I was working with a senior business colleague, and we were discussing a particular situation. I was very focused on providing the legal parameters of what was permissible and what we could do under the law, and the business colleague stopped me mid-sentence and said to the effect, “I need to know more than what we can do. Help me figure out what we should do.” Certainly, not all our business colleagues are so open to having that kind of exchange with their legal counsel, but that conversation made me realize how important is it is for the legal team to provide thought leadership and to create an atmosphere of trust and collaboration that encourages robust dialogue and an exchange of ideas.
So it’s a lot about messaging. How have you translated that to your team?
Turner: The legal department is often called to speak the truth. Keeping that in mind, I restructured our organization to create a larger legal leadership team. I always tell the team that they are actually mini general counsels. I want them to be accountable for the advice that is provided and I want them embedded in the business. This approach enables them to participate in the thought leadership discussions in their particular area. We also have to carry our own portfolios, which means we have to roll up our sleeves and do work that supports the business.
One of the key strategies is about winning with knowledge, insight, and talent. What have you done to get to know the Hershey’s consumer, which is at the heart of this strategy?
Turner: We try to keep it very simple. The best approach for the legal department is to learn and understand our business, understand trends, understand the tempo of our business, and manage our work accordingly. We track marketing information, pay attention to issues that arise, and keep abreast of new developments in the law so we can anticipate how to protect our brands.
One of your driving initiatives is to “execute with excellence.” How do you plan to accomplish this in the real, day-to-day world of Hershey?
Turner: I think of it from both the business standpoint and the internal legal support perspective: there has to be strong, year-round execution so we’re all working to ensure the success of our global strategies. Whether it’s a business unit or a functional group of Hershey—legal, HR, or otherwise—we need a laser focus on the idea that everything we do really makes a difference and adds to shareholder value.
And some recent initiatives have really spoken to that drive.
Turner: Yes. Good examples are the opening of the Research & Development Center in Shanghai and the acquisition of Brookside [Brookside Foods Ltd., a Canadian confectionery company acquired in December 2011]. Execution with excellence is a day-to-day, person-by-person, employee-by-employee obligation to ensure that we are doing our best to reach our strategic goals.
You’re now one year into this long-range plan. Are there any alterations that have affected legal as you carry out the next phases of Hershey’s strategy?
Turner: There’s always a need to continually reassess what you’re doing, how you’re structured, and what’s working and what’s not. That said, one of the key things that I will continue to focus on, driven by the guidance of our board of directors, is having a laser-focus on succession and pipeline development. Our people are our greatest asset. So it really is critical to continue to ensure that we’re growing diverse talent, that I’m providing and ensuring that the legal department is exposed to a wide variety of opportunities and experiences, and that we take advantage of resources, both internal and external, to hone our skills and become trusted strategic advisors. So for me, the long-term focus is on succession and pipeline talent development.