store shelves with hershey products
Kristen Riggs, VP of Commercial Planning for The Hershey Company, explains how the value of having two inspiring and insightful mentors has helped propel her career. — The Hershey Company

As vice president of commercial planning for The Hershey Company, Kristen Riggs leads volume planning, pricing, sales growth and marketing for the confectionary giant’s iconic brands like Hershey, Reese’s and KitKat — but her work reflects the imprint of unseen hands.

They are those of her mentors, Hershey CEO Michele Buck, and marketing executive Andy England, the former Hershey vice president who hired Riggs in 2005 at the $7.8 billion company after earning her MBA from the University of North Carolina.

Then an engineer with zero marketing experience, Riggs soon became the beneficiary of England’s and later Buck’s mentorship, soaking up their guidance, depth of knowledge and strategic know-how on the business of consumer packaged goods (CPG). It’s made a “critical” impact on her professional development rising through the industry ranks, with her sights now set on eventually landing a CEO spot, she told CO—.

Here, Riggs explores the lessons learned from Buck and England on leading a CPG brand, from the “unique lens” that yields a competitive edge to how being one’s authentic self can serve as a powerful management tool.

CO—: Who are your mentors and why?

KR: First let me say, I’m a big advocate of having a [personal] board of directors a group of trusted advisors that serve as mentors, truth-tellers and cheerleaders. I’d love to highlight two of those individuals – one at The Hershey Company and one outside. I’ve found that having a balance between mentors inside and outside my organization has been critical to seeing myself and career more clearly.

First is Michele Buck, CEO of The Hershey Company. She has taken the time throughout my career to invest in my development. She is an amazing teacher; she never tells me what I should do, she helps me find the answers. It’s a powerful thing to help people discover they have the answers to their questions within themselves. I leave our conversations feeling more confident and assured about the direction I’m heading.

My mentor outside of Hershey is Andy England. He hired me at Hershey when I graduated with my MBA from the University of North Carolina. He was the first person to believe that I would make a great consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand manager, even though I was an engineer and had no marketing experience. He knew this before I did and believed in me from our first meeting on. He’s since moved on from Hershey, but serves as a valuable sounding board for me.

CO—: What are they like?

KR: Michele is a great listener and an insightful thinker. She is confident and wants to win. She pushes herself to be her very best and unlocks new ways of working. She embodies everything you would hope a leader would be and is a great role model for me, as I hope to one day be a CEO. Andy is charismatic and always has enthusiasm for work and life. He is incredibly available and patient and I can’t think of a time that he didn’t return my phone call if I needed his advice or had a question within 24 hours. That has always had a huge impact on me. He makes me feel so supported and I seek to emulate his example.

I’ve learned the power in knowing who I am — the key strengths that make me special — and how to lead through my unique lens.

Kristen Riggs, VP of Commercial Planning, The Hershey Company

CO—: What have you learned from them that’s been pivotal to your career and leading a business?

KR: I’ve learned the power in knowing who I am — the key strengths that make me special — and how to lead through my unique lens. I’ve learned this through Michele’s example and through her helping me understand the strengths I have. Leading my team and making business decisions based on these strengths allows me to move forward with confidence and conviction. Andy provides an external lens that allows me to calibrate myself — how I’m learning and growing — and helps me think about the long game in my career, when I can get caught up in the now rather than the future.

CO—: What business scenario from your work life was informed by their insight, direction or skill sets imparted?

KR: Michele encouraged me to seek challenging assignments outside of my comfort zone to develop myself. As a director, I took a role in sales leading our Sam’s Club business [move] to Bentonville, AR. It was completely new territory for me. Early on, I was unsure of what decisions to make and strategy to implement. I learned that there were things I uniquely could bring to the customer in my role, like my understanding of consumer insights, brand and marketing strategy, and there were things I needed to learn from my team about customer relationship management and sales strategy. This role has been a complete game changer for me because it has allowed me to understand the commercial connectivity between marketing and sales and the power of both in delivering business growth.

Andy taught me this amazing analogy. As you gain new perspectives and experiences, you’re able to see things more clearly. His analogy for my combined experiences in marketing and sales was the ability to see with two eyes rather than one. You can see the situation more completely — greater depth perception, sharpness and periphery — with two eyes. It is the perfect analogy for why multiple, divergent experiences in your career are so critical to becoming a leader with strong vision.

 kristen riggs headshot
Kristen Riggs, VP of Commercial Planning, The Hershey Company. — The Hershey Company

CO—: Show us your mentors’ imprint in action: What recent strategic initiative at Hershey reflects their influence?

KR: A project that highlights the imprint of my mentors is Hershey’s launch of new stand-up packaging in the candy aisle. Our new packaging reflects the consumer-centered and insights-driven approach to the business that both Michele and Andy have. My team invested in different types of consumer research, including spending time interviewing people in their homes about what they expect from their candy packaging after they bring the item home from the store. The time spent listening and learning from consumers comes through in our new packaging strategy. For example, consumers told us that there was no added value in having a resealable closure on bags with individually wrapped products inside like Hershey’s Kisses. Why? Because most people already have a ritual of taking the product out the bag and putting it in a special place around their home, a desk drawer, container in the pantry, etc. This initiative has been a collaborative effort across both supply chain and sales, which reflects the collaborative nature of my mentors. It’s also been a project where, as a leader, I have championed and supported my team.

CO—: Complete this sentence: Had I not met Michele and Andy, I likely never would have...

KR: Had I not met Michele, I likely never would have had the opportunity to learn so many different aspects of our business and had the confidence to stretch myself. Had I not met Andy, I might have left consumer packaged goods way too early in my career and never reached the true love I have for what I get to do every day.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published June 10, 2019