A Hershey Co. executive leverages lessons, returns to Smeal

Profile of Suzanne Jones, vice president of The Hershey Experience and Penn State Smeal Executive MBA Program alumna, who continues to come back to Smeal to speak to students.
Portrait of Suzanne Jones.
Suzanne Jones, vice president of The Hershey Experience at The Hershey Company, is a 2010 graduate of the Penn State Smeal Executive MBA Program.

Suzanne Jones, vice president of The Hershey Experience at The Hershey Company, couldn’t help but smile as she recalled what she termed “one of my proudest days.”

Jones, a 2010 graduate of the Penn State Smeal Executive MBA Program, and some of the top managers at Hershey were pulled together for some general management training. One of the exercises the managers were tasked with was based on the Strategy Diamond model.

The Strategy Diamond, a widely used tool, was developed by Donald Hambrick, Evan Pugh University Professor and Smeal Chaired Professor of Management at Penn State. It provides executives and consultants with a concise, coherent way to analyze, integrate, summarize, and communicate product, business, and corporate level strategies.

“I had an opportunity, in the discussion portion of it, to say, ‘Well, when I was in Don’s class, this is how he covered it,’” she said, smiling broadly. “It was such an awesome advantage to share with the team that not only had I been in his class but that I knew him personally.”

Not only did Hambrick make an impression on Jones, the reverse was also true. For the past two years, Hambrick has invited her to speak to residential MBA students in his Strategy Implementation class.

“It’s important for students to hear about executives applying the principles they learned in this classroom. It’s highly valuable if they are alums,” Hambrick said. “I want the speakers my students hear to be real and serve an aspirational function.”

An Advancing Career

Jones joined Hershey as a district account supervisor and sales representative in 1996 and has steadily advanced through the management ranks.

Shortly after obtaining her EMBA from Smeal, Jones was promoted to brand director of Hershey’s Kisses and Hershey’s Bliss. A little over a year later, she was tabbed as director of global chocolate innovation and then promoted again, to senior director of global chocolate innovation. Nearly five years later, she obtained her current position.

“As I’ve gone through different roles in my career, there’s always the opportunity to personally reflect on the lessons I learned at Smeal to double check what I was putting in place or to actively deploy them with my team. Whether I used that specific language or not, those principles held true and helped me advance through several different business challenges,” she said.

As the vice president of a global company, Jones is incredibly busy. Even so, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to come to University Park, reunite with Hambrick, and address his class. During her recent guest appearance, Jones presented a real-life case that reflected situations that arose from her own professional experiences.

Back in the Classroom

“I enjoy the time so much. I love coming back to campus. I love the opportunity to engage with such high caliber students. The questions they ask are amazing and on point. That’s really gratifying,” she said.

“I will say it’s also a wonderful opportunity to pause my own unbelievably long to-do list and reflect on what I learned at Smeal and apply it to the business I have at hand. I say, ‘how can I actively leverage this tool right now?’ It’s a little refresher course for me on an annual basis.”

And it serves as confirmation for her, Hambrick, and the students that the lessons they are learning have every-day, real-life applications.

“Both the company broadly and my team within itself was going through significant change, strategically, structurally, culturally. Being able to leverage, specifically, lessons Don taught us to work us through that change was very, very helpful,” Jones said. “I think I would have been a little adrift at sea had I not had the skill sets I learned in his class.”

Posted January 2018