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Leadership perspectives: Hershey’s Michele Buck

UNC Kenan-FlaglerMichele Buck wants to be a CEO someday.

She started working at age 10, first delivering papers, then babysitting. She’s been a waitress, sold Avon products door-to-door and worked in a bank.

Today, Buck (MBA ’87) is president of The Hershey Company – North America, delivering more than $6 billion in annual revenue.

And she’s only climbing farther up the corporate ladder.

Buck spoke about the values that guide her leadership style at UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Leadership Day, where MBA students attend interactive workshops, talks and simulations for course credit.

“I wasn’t always aspiring to be a CEO,” she told MBA students. “When I came out of undergrad, I never thought I’d get a master’s. After my MBA, I just wanted to be a brand manager. I had to see myself accomplish one thing to know I could do another.”

Buck spoke at UNC Kenan Flagler’s Leadership Day — where MBA students attend interactive workshops, talks and simulations for course credit — about the values that guide her leadership style.

The daughter of an electrician and a teacher, relationships have always come first to Buck. “Growing up, it was ingrained in me to treat others how you would want to be treated,” she said. “Valuing people is at the core of my leadership style.”

She told students to “leverage your towering strengths.”

Buck realized early on that her strength was her ability to inspire others with creativity and passion. “I don’t want to be sitting in the office sending memos all day when my strength is inspiring others in person,” she said.

Throughout her business career, Buck has been everything from a plant manager to a senior Kraft Foods Group executive.

“Some of the times I’ve grown the most as a leader were when I took jobs that were really outside my comfort zone,” she said.

And that diverse set of experiences helped her build a flexible resume.

“I wanted to be able to move around,” Buck said. “I think that’s really important; always look a couple of roles out.”

Buck’s also shared these perspectives on leadership:

  • “Leadership is a combination of innate traits that you’re born with and experiences you gain along the way. That is what shapes you as a leader.”
  • “A big piece of leadership success is grounded in psychology and connectivity. How do you understand humans?”
  • “There are some common ground rules for what all leaders need to do.”
  • “But there have been many different styles of leadership that have been successful.”
  • “The key is being the best version of yourself as a leader. Be the best you.”