In Thomas Wolfe’s novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, the central character, George Webber, exclaims, “You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."
But despite Webber’s exhortation, occasionally you can, and it can be a wonderful thing. Take, for example, Marty Thompson, president and ceo of Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. Earlier this week while making my rounds at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, I had the opportunity to sit down with Thompson and chat about his “Career Day” participation at Montini Catholic High School in Lombard.
Thompson, who had graduated from there in 1980, was asked to speak about the sales profession to juniors at the high school earlier this year. Having worked for a series of companies, including Procter & Gamble and the Clorox Co. before joining Ghiradelli and eventually ascending to the chief executive role, Thompson’s broad base of experiences was certainly worth sharing with today’s younger generation.
As a former three-sport athlete — Thompson played basketball, baseball and football at Montini — he thought it would be valuable to the students if he identified what traits Ghirardelli was looking for in candidates applying for positions at the San Francisco-based company.
“At Ghirardelli, we look for people who had leadership skills, can work collaboratively and can think strategically,” he told the group of 17-year-olds. It’s critical to discover who you are and what your values are, Thompson went on. In doing so, it becomes easier to find one’s career path. As the chief chocolate executive went on to explain, “great companies” also stay true to their values.
He also urged them to undergo a bit of self-reflection. Given the high school’s penchant for excelling in sports — the girls basketball team were 3A state champs three years in a row while the boys football team captured the 5A state champ title, also three years running — Thompson used the analogy of watching film after a sports event.
In reviewing film, athletes can identify both their weaknesses and strengths, a process that suggests self improvement. Now some of you may be asking how did I get wind of Thompson and his association with Montini high school, given the fact that most ceos like to keep their private life, well, private?
Thought you’d never ask. When Thompson discovered he was going to speak to the students, the ceo started preparing a presentation. In doing so, he discovered that two of his classmates, Bill Tumpane and John Conversa, worked in the confectionery industry.
What was even more amazing is that both were featured on the cover of Candy Industry magazine — Tumpane, plant director of Mars’ Chicago facility, in the October 2009 issue; and John Conversa, U.S. plant manager for Ferrara Pan Candy Co., in our July 2010 issue. Thompson, by the way, was featured on the May 2011 cover of the magazine.
An unbelievable coincidence, wouldn’t you say? Consequently, Thompson sent me an e-mail early this year seeing if I could provide him PDFs of his former classmates. Yes, I recognize that being on the cover of Candy Industryisn’t quite like being on the cover of Rolling Stonemagazine, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.
So to cap this vignette off, the same weekend Thompson spoke to the juniors, he also was inducted into the school’s Alumni Hall of Fame. Watching the induction was his father, who also was a salesman. As Thompson pointed out, his father would come out to all the games he and his siblings participated in. Consequently, it was a special moment for both father and son that weekend.
Given how busy we all get in this industry, particularly when there’s a show such as the Sweets & Snacks Expo, I thought it would be good to take some time out and recognize how lucky we are to have such dynamic people in the industry. Understand that not all of them come from Montini. Still, it does one good to see individuals within our industry recognized, be it on the cover of Candy Industryor at one’s high school. In Thompson’s case, he “lettered” twice. End result: It’s comforting to know our industry is in good hands.