Embracing the Role of a Servant Leader: A Hershey Case Study

By Kevin McCollum

A job change from direct procurement at TE Connectivity to marketing procurement at The Hershey Company has been one of the steepest learning curves of my career. I had fantastic mentors and teachers in David Donnelly (still at Hershey), Tracy Allery (now at Nestlé), and the staff at Cortex Media, who were all instrumental in helping me to learn media, but more importantly, to navigate the paradigm shift from being a direct budget owner to an indirect influencer.

While marketing procurement's role at every company is different, I believe they all have the potential to have one thing in common: servant leadership. I firmly believe that taking my knowledge and understanding of servant leadership from my faith life, and embracing it in my role within marketing procurement at Hershey has been the single biggest key to my success over the last six and a half years. But it had to be more than just head knowledge. It had to be heart knowledge as well — the driving force behind my attitude, behaviors, strategies, and actions.

The servant leadership philosophy is based on the idea of interacting with others (regardless of position) in a manner that results in achieving authority rather than power. This is done by prioritizing serving others, the organization, and the greater good instead of my own objectives or goals. Rather than becoming a doormat, a true servant leader is granted a great deal of authority and influence by those they serve.

At The Hershey Company, my embrace of a servant leadership philosophy has manifested itself in many ways:

  • It has driven a desire to align my goals with the goals of my stakeholders. When our goals are aligned, my stakeholders know that for each of us to be successful, the other needs to be as well. They know that I am personally invested in their success.
  • I position myself as a facilitator and enabler — to clear red tape, tear down hurdles, and fill in potholes, which paves the way and accelerates their success.
  • I strive to educate myself and ask questions to understand why we invest in the agencies, vendors, and tech platforms that help drive our business forward. Having that knowledge allows me to understand what is important for my stakeholders and the business, and what the agency/vendor/tech provider is looking for in the relationship.
  • Having an intimate knowledge of what we invest in, and why, gives me a tremendous amount of credibility with my internal stakeholders and earns their trust. They consider me to be part of or an extension of their team. They want to involve me early and often — getting me in early on re-negotiations of contracts, RFPing vendors for new business needs, and discussing problems before they become significant disruptions. It allows us to communicate with agencies and vendors with a unified voice and message, and to pick and choose where and when to employ the necessary strategy of good cop/bad cop. My stakeholders trust me to call, visit, and even negotiate with agencies and vendors without them being present or on the line.
  • This level of trust and respect allows me to challenge my internal stakeholders regarding motives, strategies, how success is measured, and cost/benefit. They know I will not undermine their credibility or question their integrity, but I will ask them tough business questions to ensure that the long-term growth of the business remains paramount, and that we spend company funds wisely.
  • A good working knowledge also earns both respect and appreciation from the agencies and vendors that I work with. They understand that they cannot pull any wool over my eyes, and that although I will push them, I will treat them with dignity and be fair and honest in my dealings with them. This builds trust so they know they can proactively come to me to mediate when there are Hershey-caused issues (personality conflicts, ways of working, processes/procedures, billing/invoicing, etc.) that are detrimental to the business relationship, or simply causing inefficiencies.
  • Having a valued relationship on both sides of the table while maintaining a somewhat-independent/outsider's perspective also provides an opportunity to provide insights on how to improve processes and ways of working. When I bring those opportunities to the table, they are given due consideration by both sides, which further strengthens not only the working relationship on both sides, but the creation of additional value that sometimes only procurement can bring to the table.

While other approaches may work and be valuable, I believe that my embrace of servant leadership has paid immense dividends during both my entire career, and specifically my time at The Hershey Company. I have received comments from account leads at agencies and other vendors that they wish they could clone me (or at least my style) to work at some of their other clients. I've also received numerous accolades, from vice presidents to junior marketers in the trenches, on how valuable my involvement is for them to succeed, and how surprisingly enjoyable it is working with procurement (at least most of the time!).

This is where the leadership in servant leadership really shines through. Because of the servant attitude and approach that I take, I am granted a leadership role. From being given a vote and seat at the table on the mission-critical journey of selecting a media agency to junior marketers saying they wouldn't dare engage a potential vendors on a new piece of business without reaching out to me first, the benefits of servant leadership have paid dividends in many ways.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Kevin McCollum is the manager of indirect procurement at The Hershey Company.