About William E. Dearden

Mr. Dearden’s full circle moment came in 1976 with his appointment to the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Hershey Company. To say he was thrilled to grow from a boy supported by the generosity of Mr. Hershey into a man running the company he founded would indeed be an understatement. As CEO, Mr. Dearden was, of course, focused on company growth and profit expectations, but he was also insistent on preserving the heritage and values of Mr. Hershey. He expected every employee to embrace the special responsibility to understand, accept, and pass on those values to those who came after them, saying: “All of us know that we are working for more than just profits and can see exactly where our profits are going - to the Milton Hershey School and the students. With my background that is an important satisfaction.”

Mr. Dearden lived a meaningful and productive life that, like his role model Mr. Hershey, included the practice of philanthropy through gratitude, thankful appreciation, and giving back. He never forgot where he came from; he always had a clear picture of where he was going; and he never forgot those who helped him along the way. In all aspects of his life, Mr. Dearden exemplified the simple, but powerful notion that hard work, determination, perseverance, and courage can conquer most obstacles; success is no accident.

The Hershey Company is a Fortune 500 company and a leading candy and confectionery company in North America. Mr. Dearden contributed significantly to the company’s long-term success by identifying key opportunities for growth in sales, sales, development, research, advertising, and strategic planning. The company’s leadership teams since that time continued to build upon and expand upon Mr. Dearden’s vision.

According to Hershey Archives, Mr. Hershey always hoped that one day one of his graduates would run his company. In the 112 year history of the school, Mr. Dearden is the only graduate to have done so thus far.

About The Hershey Company and Stuarts Draft Plant

The Hershey Company, founded in 1894 by Milton S. Hershey, and headquartered in Hershey, Pennsylvania is an industry-leading snacks company known for bringing goodness to the world through its iconic brands, remarkable people, and enduring commitment to help children succeed. Hershey has approximately 19,000 employees around the world who work every day to deliver delicious, quality products. The company has more than 100 brand names in approximately 80 countries around the world that drive more than $8.9 billion in annual revenues, including such iconic brand names as Hershey's, Reese's, Kit Kat®, Jolly Rancher and Ice Breakers, and fast-growing salty snacks including SkinnyPop, Pirate's Booty and Dot's Pretzels.

The Hershey Company established Hershey Chocolate of Virginia, Inc. in Augusta County in 1980. The Stuarts Draft plant is the company’s second largest in the United States and employs about 1,300 employees. The Stuarts Draft plant is the original home of Reese’s® Pieces® candies, and today produces 15 beloved brands, including Almond Joy® and Mounds® chocolates, Whatchamacallit® chocolate bars, Reese’s® Peanut Butter Cups and many more well-loved products.

William E. Dearden ’40 1922-2003

William E. Dearden came to the Hershey Industrial School (now MHS) in 1935 when he was 13 years old.  Dearden's mother had recently died and his father was struggling to care for his three children while frequently unemployed. Acting on the advice of a Philadelphia neighbor, his father enrolled Dearden and his brother in the School. 

MHS had a profound effect on Bill Dearden. It provided a loving, stable environment, a good education, and future opportunities Dearden never would have thought possible before he entered the School. In return, Bill spent his entire career attempting to repay his debt of gratitude to Milton Hershey and the School he and Mrs. Hershey created.  Life was not easy at the School at that time and there was little time for activities beyond class work, homework and extra-curricular activities.  Dearden was expected to do chores both in the student home and on the school farm, milking cows and working in the fields. Bill credited his years at the School for teaching him the value of hard work and discipline which served him throughout his life. Following graduation:

By all accounts Bill Dearden is recognized as the man that got the Hershey Chocolate Corporation moving, which didn't even have a marketing department and the company had never used media advertising.  Bill had to build these vital departments from the ground up.  He started Hershey's first marketing research and marketing departments and spearheaded efforts to modernize the sales department.

By the time Bill Dearden was appointed CEO in 1976; he had a strong vision for the Corporation’s future. To help move it forward Dearden created a new corporate staff and acquired and renovated Milton Hershey's mansion, High Point, to serve as the new corporate headquarters.  One of his first tasks was to develop a Corporate Strategic Plan. This plan laid out the necessary groundwork for future success. Under his leadership the Corporation grew and diversified, acquiring other companies, among them Y&S Candies in 1977.  Hershey's growing involvement with the international market was formalized with the creation of Hershey International Ltd. in 1981. Dearden also implemented management succession planning. By the time he retired in 1985, sales had increased from $550 million to $1.9 billion and the Hershey Chocolate Corporation had emerged as the number one confectionery firm in the United States.

During his tenure as CEO, Dearden stood out as a dynamic leader who tolerated no wasted time, motion or effort. He pushed all those that worked for him to give their best. He was a person for whom other people could easily rally. He was a demanding leader, but that was balanced by the fact that he demanded as much or more of himself than he did of others.