Melissa Sellers – The Hershey Company
“Gimme a break, gimme a break. Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar!”
It’s an iconic jingle for an iconic American candy, and almost everyone knows that chocolate covered wafer—just like they know Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Twizzlers candy. What they don’t know: how to market those products, manufacture and distribute them, and get them in the waiting hands and mouths of consumers around the world.
That’s the territory of Melissa Sellers, one of the lead attorneys at The Hershey Company in the Pennsylvania town that bears its name. Her official title is chief counsel for global supply chain and antitrust, but Sellers says she does much more than that.
“Basically, I lead all of the legal support for anything involving the making of our product,” Sellers says. “We have a pretty lean department, so if anything happens from a legal perspective that impacts our plants, it’s in my purview.”
Since joining the company in 2013, Sellers has jumped headfirst into the chocolate fountain that is Hershey’s international business. She’s at the forefront of initiatives to overhaul its global marketing and advertising review process and find better ways to handle vendor and supplier contracts. She’s also actively involved in real estate and construction transactions as operations are expanded across the globe.
“We have a broad network of plants throughout the U.S., including two in Hershey, and we have plants in Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Malaysia and India,” she says.
Many Reese-ons for efficiencies
One of the biggest things she did when she got to Hershey was transform a paper-intensive, time-consuming process for the legal, business and marketing teams related to legal compliance for print, digital and TV advertising and marketing.
The process, Sellers says, used to involve several people attending a weekly meeting lasting over eight hours, and a lot of paperwork and preparation for these marathon sessions, Sellers says. Cross-functional teams from legal, marketing, regulatory and design were all involved. Even with all this preparation, marketers would sometimes have to wait a week or more for feedback.
Now, a platform developed in-house allows marketers to submit their materials and receive feedback, mostly in real time, without the need for meetings. The project led to a 30-40 percent decrease in time spent by Hershey legal, as well as the marketing teams who can now focus on growing the business. “It was a yearlong project starting in 2015, but this has been a huge lift and is still in use today,” Sellers notes.
In 2018, she embarked on another initiative to transform the company’s contract templates and business-facing guidelines, tools and resources for contracting. That project took almost 18 months to complete and helped to eliminate the time that lawyers and business teams were spending daily on low-value work, like revising non-disclosure agreements and supplier documents.
She says the legal team, with input from stakeholders in procurement, marketing and supply chain, developed user-friendly contract templates that the entire company has become comfortable with over time—and that comfort has led to increased production and efficiency.
“We should be focusing on huge projects and big initiatives that grow the business, not spending hours a day on NDAs,” Sellers says.
Mounds of work during pandemic
Hershey makes more than chocolate and other confections—it also makes brands like Pirate’s Booty puffs and Skinny Pop popcorn—and was deemed an essential business from the beginning.
Sellers has also helped with the business response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge was that so many countries and cities where Hershey makes its products had different protocols, guidelines and mandates. In conjunction with Hershey’s crisis response team, Sellers helped to equip plants and employees with letters and legal documentation to support continued operations and enable plant workers to travel to work every day.
“I think Hershey as a company, and our manufacturing employees in particular, have really risen to the occasion,” she says.
The marketing and leadership teams are adapting quickly to changing consumer demands, Sellers explains, including that people are buying more and more of their food online and continue wanting treats for their families.
The interesting thing, Sellers says, is that while Hershey continues to innovate with new and existing products, its iconic brands resonate strongly with consumers, especially during difficult times. This, along with the hard work of its manufacturing teams who have kept the business going, Sellers says, “has helped the company maintain a strong position during the pandemic.”
Securing an in-house PAYDAY
Sellers says she never imagined working as an in-house attorney at a company whose products she’s consumed her entire life. Being a lawyer wasn’t even what she set out to do as a young girl growing up in Maryland.
Instead, she went to the National University of Ireland and studied Spanish, sociology and politics. After graduating, while using her Spanish language skills working full time at an international travel assistance company and taking courses toward an MBA, her boss told her she would make an excellent lawyer—and that the company would help support her law school endeavor by providing some financial assistance.
“He thought I had a really good legal mind, but I guess you can say I was a late legal bloomer,” she recalls.
After graduating from the University of Baltimore School of Law, Sellers worked for a few years at Saul Ewing LLP in Baltimore handling corporate law, antitrust, and mergers and acquisitions. When the opportunity came to work as the first in-house attorney for Phillips Foods, a global seafood manufacturer and restaurant chain, she jumped at it. She stayed for 12 years and left as its vice president and general counsel.
At Phillips, she implemented antitrust compliance and crisis management plans; managed litigation, disputes, intellectual property and real estate matters; and prepared, reviewed and negotiated marketing, supply, distribution, franchising and licensing agreements in the U.S. and around the world.
“Without that experience, I wouldn’t have been nearly as successful when I started at Hershey,” she says.
You could call it her big break.
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