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1976 Horatio Alger Award Winner

William E.C. Dearden*


"Have a vision and something that drives you."

When William Dearden's mother died and his father, a factory worker, was unable to support the family during the Depression, Dearden and his brother were sent to the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Entering this home for boys at the age of 13, Dearden never dreamed that he would one day return to Hershey, ultimately to be named chairman of Hershey Foods Corporation.

Dearden was able to attend Albright College in 1940 on a full athletic scholarship. Although the war interrupted his career there, it did not interrupt his education. The Navy sent him to Ursinus College and to Harvard Business School to prepare him for his work as a supply and disbursing officer. In 1946, out of the Navy, he joined Dunn & Bradstreet as a sales representative.

After being recalled by the Navy and serving during the Korean War, Dearden changed course. He was invited back to Hershey in 1953 to serve as assistant business manager of the Hershey School. He accepted the offer because he wanted to give back to the school that had taken such good care of him as a boy. Four years later, Dearden moved over to the corporation as assistant to the chairman of the board. He continued to move up through sales and marketing until, in 1971, he was appointed a group vice president. Five years later, he was named vice chairman and chief executive officer.

During Dearden's tenure as CEO, Hershey expanded in earnest. Dearden helped develop sales, marketing, and advertising programs; initiated a search for new products and corporate acquisitions; and introduced strategic planning. By the time he retired in 1985, Dearden had increased sales from $550 million to $1.9 billion. After retirement, Dearden served on several corporate boards. He fully retired in 1994.

Reflecting on his success, Dearden once said that "in addition to having a purpose and working hard, you must have effective leadership at the top. The old ideas of loyalty, integrity, and honesty, which always have been so important, are still just as important today." Dearden told young people to "be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that come, use talents fully, and use various attributes to advantage."

* Deceased