|By Mary Dolan, The Reidsville Review, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News |
Nov. 17, 2010--In Hershey, Pa., the smell of chocolate fills the air for miles around. Reidsville native Bill Simpson Jr. has called this city of chocolate home since 1996 and was recently named chief operating officer and president of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company.
Simpson, a 1974 graduate of Reidsville High School and 1978 Appalachian State University alum, came aboard the Hershey enterprise 14 years ago as general manager of Hershey Lodge, one of several Hershey-brand lodging, entertainment and leisure properties.
Most recently Simpson served as executive vice president of the company. He was named chief operating officer in April, and then last month the announcement was made that he would take on the title of president as well.
Simpson adeptly cycles through the numbers detailing the accommodation space, the number of visitors and the dollar figures that have made the Hershey empire what it is today.
As general manager of the lodge, Simpson oversaw a major expansion, which added 100,000 square feet of meeting space and more than 200 rooms to make it the 665-room hotel it is today -- a $32 million overhaul.
In 2002, Simpson moved over to the entertainment side of the business, overseeing the company's network of entertainment complexes: the Hersheypark entertainment complex, Hersheypark Stadium, Giant Center and Hershey Theatre. The Hershey Bears, the oldest American Hockey League team and a farm team for the Washington Capitals, play at Giant Center. Concerts and athletic events make their way through the stadium and theater every week.
The namesake for the company is Milton Hershey, the man responsible for the Hershey Chocolate Company, where he developed his own recipe for milk chocolate. Later, Milton Hershey virtually single-handedly created the town of Hershey, complete with homes, a school and entertainment opportunities.
He eventually separated his other business ventures from the chocolate productions. That division created Hershey Estates, which is now known as Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company. Hershey's legacy lives on in the day-to-day operations of Hershey, Pa., the chocolate-themed town within a town in Derry Township, Pa. And the famous brand of chocolate continues to be produced right there as well.
Simpson said the town of Hershey has managed to maintain steady business -- about five million visitors a year -- even in the last couple of years when other places have felt the pinch of the economic recession. He attributes that, at least in part, to the ideal proximity of the company -- within three and a half hours of 60 million people, he said.
"We've been able to still be a popular destination" for both business meetings and leisure activities, he said.
The fact that Hershey offers amenities for business purposes and pleasure alike is part of what makes it so appealing, Simpson said.
"What we've been trying to do ... is make this a seamless destination," he said.
Hershey Resorts and Entertainment Company employs about 1,600 full-time staff members and, during the peak months of the summer season, about another 7,000 people.
Another reason for the continued success of the resort and entertainment options, Simpson maintains, is simply the trust people have in the brand.
"We've become sort of the experiential part of the brand," he said.
Before coming to Hershey in 1996, Simpson was general manager of the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Houston, Texas. He also held leadership roles with Williamsburg Inn, Hyatt Hotels Corporation and The Opryland Hotel.
"It's quite an honor to be in this position," he said. "I'm very flattered and challenged at the same time. It's great to live in the sweetest place on earth."
"Bill has all the right talents to serve as president of this company," Chief Executive Officer Ted Kleisner said in a statement. "He has extensive resort experience and he has spent the past eight years running our entertainment operations. The sum total of that knowledge, combined with his ability to collaborate, make him the ideal person not only for this position, but also to further support the legacy of Milton S. Hershey."
To see more of The Reidsville Review or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.reidsvillereview.com.
Copyright (c) 2010, The Reidsville Review, N.C.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com. NYSE:HSY,