Milton Hershey and Failure

Karen’s mom is a Hershey. Karen’s grandmother and grandfather were both Hershey’s.  Every summer we go to Pennsylvania for the Hershey reunion with all of Karen’s Hershey aunts, uncles and cousins. She has the Hershey legacy in her genes.

I recently came across the Milton Hershey story.  Hershey is America’s largest chocolate manufacturer and comes with a compelling story.

Milton Hershey was to chocolate what Henry Ford was to the automobile. Most people don’t realize it, but over a hundred years ago, chocolate was a luxury enjoyed only by the wealthy. That is until Milton Hershey built a chocolate factory and began mass-producing milk chocolate-thus making it affordable for everyone!

Around this factory, Milton designed and helped build a model town complete with trolley systems, houses, schools, swimming pools and even a zoo. This town later became known as Hershey, PA. He went on add Hershey theme park, Hershey hotel, Hershey arena and Hershey stadium.

But what is probably most noteworthy is that although unable to have children of their own, Milton and Catherine Hershey started what became the MILTON HERSHEY SCHOOL for orphaned boys. Orphans at that time in history, were typically excluded from “polite” society and seen as a financial burden. In the early 1900’s Milton Hershey donated all their considerable wealth to the boarding school. The Hershey Trust is now the largest shareholder of the Hershey Company and beneficiary to the school. Before his death, Milton Hershey ensured the school would live on by donating 30% of all future Hershey profits to the school. Due to this generous donation by America’s largest chocolate company, MHS now has over 12 billion in assets, making it one of the richest schools in the world. Today, the Milton Hershey School provides a free education, health care, clothing, and food in a home like setting to 2000 plus kids in financial need. The school provides “house parents”, who are married couples to care for the kids in the student homes. Most notably perhaps is the fact that Mr. Hershey prohibited The Hershey Company from using the school as an advertisement or marketing strategy.

That’s real special. But for all that to happen you must understand that Milton Hershey had to be able to deal with failure and to take risk. His first business, a candy shop, in Philadelphia failed after six years. He did an apprenticeship with a confectioner in Denver and learned how to make caramel. After which he started his second business in New York – that also failed. After thirteen years of failure, he started his third company (Lancaster Caramel Company) which become very successful. Fourteen years after he started that company it was worth $1,000,000 ($28,400,000 today). But there’s more to his story, we haven’t gotten to the Hershey Chocolate part yet. He could have retired and laid on the beach. He did not have to take any more risks. But he had this idea that caramel was a fad but chocolate was a permanent thing. So on this hunch (whisper) he sold his company and went all in on chocolate. That was a considerable risk since he had a history of failing twice as much as he had at succeeding. But it was that risk that led to his lasting legacy that I described above.

Thomas Edison has been famously quoted as saying, “I have not failed 10,000 times…I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

To activate faith, we need to have a healthy perspective on failure because failure is always present and possible when one takes risks. Your faith will never be what it should be without being a risk taker.