Harold S. Mohler, 1919-1988
Harold Mohler’s years as President and Chief Executive Officer, and then as Chairman of the Board, of Hershey Chocolate comprised a period of unprecedented change and dramatic growth for Hershey. While at the helm, Mohler led the company to diversify into other food and food-related fields and to venture into previously uncharted territory — the world of advertising.
His college education was interrupted by the United States’ entry into World War II. Mohler served as a navigator in the 15th Air Force, a bomber group in Italy, and completed 23 missions. He was a prisoner of war in Germany for a year and was awarded the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf clusters and the Purple Heart.
After the war he returned to Lehigh University, graduating in 1948 with a degree in engineering. Mohler was immediately hired by Hershey Chocolate Corporation Plant Manager Samuel Hinkle as part of the first wave of college-educated professionals to be employed at the Hershey plant. He initially worked as an Industrial Engineer and was responsible for a number of significant changes and modifications. Mohler’s strong people skills became evident very early on as he became involved in plant labor relations.
Mohler’s technical and people skills did not go unnoticed by Hinkle who quickly appointed him as his assistant when Hinkle became President of Hershey Chocolate Corporation in 1956. In this position, Mohler learned about the broader aspects of running a company – sales, commodities, finance and investments. As Hinkle became more involved with the development of The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Mohler assumed even greater responsibilities within the company. He played a key role in the acquisition of the H.B. Reese Candy Company in 1963. This acquisition was the first in a series of purchases that diversified and broadened the chocolate company’s mission. Other acquisitions during his tenure included Delmonico Foods, San Giorgio Macaroni, Y&S Candies, Skinner Macaroni and Friendly Ice Cream.
President and CEO, 1965-1976
Mohler became President and Chief Executive Officer and William Schiller became Chairman of the Board upon Hinkle’s retirement in 1965. Although this was an unconventional division of leadership, it proved to be effective. Mohler’s skills were more in tune with the people side of the business, while Schiller, on the other hand, was noted for his financial skill and strong business sense. The two were extremely compatible. It was an unusual day when Mohler and Schiller did not spend at least an hour together planning the future of the company.
Recognizing that the company’s success rested on new product development and advertising, Mohler empowered Bill Dearden to develop these areas. He hired John Rawley to start Hershey’s first Marketing Research Department and Larry Johns to modernize the Sales Department. Bill Suhring was hired to spearhead Hershey’s early marketing efforts, including the company’s entry into media advertising in 1969.
Introducing New Leadership, 1976-1984
Mohler turned the day-to-day operations of the company over to Bill Dearden and Dick Zimmerman in 1976. Dearden was appointed Chief Executive Officer and Vice Chairman of the Board and Zimmerman was appointed President and Chief Operating Officer. Mohler retained his position as Chairman of the Board and turned his attention to larger issues affecting the company. “Harold Mohler was my personal friend and mentor,” said Dick Zimmerman, retired Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. “He was as farsighted and as strategic a thinker as I’ve seen in this company as he laid the groundwork for the advertising, promotion and creation of new products. Harold recognized the need for the addition of keen, sensitive people … men and women who had served the food business in similar capacities and who brought their skill and talent into the company.”
Realizing Hershey’s need for greater involvement with government relations, Mohler established a Hershey office in Washington, D.C. He also made the company’s board of directors an outside board with members who could offer their professional expertise and a more objective view. Prior to this, the board had been composed almost exclusively of Hershey and Hershey-affiliated executives.
Mohler had been with the company for 35 years when he retired in 1984. As a young boy growing up in nearby Ephrata, Mohler probably never imagined that he would one day become the chief executive officer of a major corporation. However, his high school yearbook described him perfectly — “a born leader.” He was a leader whose sense of humor and gift for storytelling was legendary… a leader who used challenge in place of “no” to get the best results from his people. Harold Mohler is remembered for his wisdom, his ability to guide, encourage and inspire and, most of all, for successfully leading the company through an era of unparalleled change and tremendous growth.