When John Donahoe was an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College, he was a normal student-athlete – bright, focused, and quite involved on campus. He probably did not envision himself as the future CEO of one of America’s biggest corporations. But what he did know was that he had a passion, a drive, and desire to be a leader. Donahoe always felt comfortable in leadership positions, whether it was in his fraternity or leading his teammates on the basketball court as a member of the Big Green basketball team. Before describing his career story, Donahoe wanted to make it clear that many of the goals he has achieved, and hurdles he has had to jump would have been made extremely difficult without his role model, his father.

“My father served as a major influence on my life. At the time, I did not even know that he would serve as such a huge role model to me,” said Donahoe. “But the things I’ve learned from him have been unforgettable. The greatest value I ever emulated from him was his ability to treat everyone the same way. I remember visiting his office when I was young and being astonished by how he knew everyone by name. Whether it was the parking attendant or CEO, he treated everyone the same way.”

Donahoe graduated from Dartmouth in 1982, where he majored in economics and performed at the top of his class. He is now on the Board of Trustees at Dartmouth, and was elected Vice Chair in 2008. Donahoe claims that at Dartmouth, one professor, John Hennessey, had a significant impact on him. Hennessey was a professor of business and ethics at the college, and helped found The Institute for the Study of Applied and Professional Ethics.

“Professor Hennessey taught me the key values of self-reflection and how to use my head and heart. He made it clear that ‘I’ was a word that should not be in my vocabulary.”

Donahoe stressed the importance of Dartmouth and how he feels it prepared him for the business environment he is in today.

“The Dartmouth education creates an outstanding foundation for people who want to lead,” he said. “With a number of different perspectives, you learn how to work and dialogue with others and are forced to interact with so many different people. This has really helped me in the position I am today as CEO of eBay, where half of the 27,000 people who work for us are out of the country. Dartmouth made me comfortable and taught me how to bring people together to achieve common goals.”

Within a year after graduating, Donahoe joined the Boston consulting firm Bain & Company. Working as an Associate Consultant, he was immediately placed into leadership roles. Donahoe was given tasks in charge of recruiting and summer internship plans. He did this on top of attending Stanford Business School and achieving an MBA. Tom Tierney, a Bain & Company executive at the time who later served as CEO, served as a mentor to the young Donahoe.

“Mr. Tierney was a master of constructive feedback. After meetings, he would not just tell me I did a good job. He would tell me many things I could improve and work on. Even though it was not necessarily what I wanted to hear at times, I knew he did it because he cared. His advice made me very stronger, making sure the job I was doing was not just ‘good,’ but ‘great.’”

At Bain, Donahoe worked with the former CEO of Bain Capital and current Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. He said that Romney was one of the most capable executives and leaders he has ever met.
“Mitt is so smart, objective, and shows a strong ability to listen well. I think it is outstanding that he has been able to switch to the campaign mode as a politician, because it is certainly not an easy transition coming from the executive role in business.”

Donahoe’s success grew at a young age after his role as an associate consultant. At age 31, Tierney placed Donahoe in charge of the San Francisco office for Bain & Company. Several years later, in 1999, Donahoe became Bain’s Worldwide CEO, where he directed the company’s 30 offices and 3,000 employees. He served the position for 6 years, until 2005.

Donahoe then went to eBay in February of the same year, leading as President of eBay Marketplaces, which is responsible for or all elements of eBay’s global ecommerce businesses.

He rose to President and CEO of eBay in March of 2008, when icon Meg Whitman stepped down after 10 years of leadership. He made clear his missions at eBay.

“My objective coming in was to create an opportunity for people to make livelihood out of our innovations and make eBay an impact on the world. To be able to globally connect people and customers with whom we care about is a very rewarding thing.”

Donahoe’s job, however, was not made so easy in his first 2-3 years. Several months after he stepped in as CEO, the United States encountered the start of an ongoing recession. Donahoe was faced with serious adversity as the recession put eBay into trouble. But perhaps Donahoe can thank the traits he built early on in his life in finding a way to tackle this problem.

“It is times like this where you have to learn how to trust your instincts, and really learn something about yourself,” Donahoe said. “In times of adversity and uncertainty, you have to find inner strength to some extent, and build character to find out what you’re really made of. The experiences I had prior to being CEO of eBay helped me get through this.”

Donahoe is obviously making the right moves. In January, eBay completed its acquisition of brands4friends, Germany’s largest online shopping club for fashion and lifestyle. More recently, eBay reported a 254 percent increase in profits for the company’s fourth quarter, credited to its sale of VOIP service Skype to Microsoft.

It is important to note that John Donahoe is not just a CEO. Outside of the office, he is a father of four, andhas been blessed with twenty-seven years of marriage. Donahoe’s wife, Dr. Eileen Donahoe, works on the other side of the political spectrum, in President Obama’s administration. Dr. Donahoe graduated from Dartmouth in 1981 with a BA in American Studies. In November 2009, she was appointed by President Obama as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Previously, she served as a former affiliate at Center for International Security and Cooperation of Stanford University.

“Almost all of my time outside of work has been spent watching my children grow up,” said Donahoe. “One of my favorite things to do was watch and coach them in sports. I loved every second of it. In my personal time, I still enjoy basketball, but no longer play, but I do golf on occasion and enjoy reading.”

Donahoe has many words of encouragement for aspiring business leaders. When asked about advice for college students who have aspirations to someday hopefully be in a position that he is in, Donahoe replied, “You really have to take your own growth and development seriously. Being successful takes a lifelong commitment to learning. You always need to have the urge to get better. The worst thing you can do is hide behind your own strength.”

Donahoe made it clear that failure can sometimes be a good thing. “You can always learn from your failures. I have faced much adversity and humility, especially during the recession. There were hate videos of me, and there were people who believed I made wrong decisions and was not leading the company in the right direction. But I fought up to the challenge. Never let failure scare you off, because you will be surprised about how much character you can build in a time of difficulty,” Donahoe claimed.

Donahoe looks forward to the future of his company. With the rapid pace of change and innovation in the Internet space, Donahoe admits that his job is tiring, but exciting. “With innovations such as the iPad, iPhone, smartphones, etc. technology is constantly changing. With eBay mobile apps providing a dominant force in the business, I believe eBay is very well positioned to help consumers. At eBay Inc., we have our assets assembled, and are geared in helping this new technology thrive.”

Donahoe is again up for the challenge. He will take those core values, built through his incredible experience, and lead eBay into the future.

When you step in the doors of the PEZ Candy, Inc. headquarters in Orange, CT, it’s clear that President and CEO Joe Vittoria is, as he readily admits, a five- year-old kid at heart.

According to Vittoria, who joined the company in 2004, this effervescent liveliness – from the gargantuan PEZ-themed Orange County Chopper motorcycle suspended from the ceiling of the PEZ visitors’ center entryway, to the kaleidoscopic displays of everything from Yoda to President Millard Fillmore on the heads of dispensers – is quite a paradigm shift. “When I came here, the company was quiet,” Vittoria admitted.

Vittoria’s seven years with PEZ have seen a resurrection of sorts: of the brand, of the headquarters’ physical presence and of the company as a whole. The new PEZ, however – which ships more than 150 million dispensers per year globally – represents a significant move forward not only from the previous decade, but from the 85-year-old company’s roots in Vienna, Austria as a non- invasive way to help smokers kick their habits.

For PEZ’s first twenty-five years of existence, the company’s iconic dispensers bore a near-identical physical resemblance to cigarette lighters: they helped smokers quit smoking without abandoning the “cool” factor associated with carrying lighters. Rather than child-oriented candy capsules, the containers dispensed mints, providing an alternative to cigarettes.

But the brilliance lay in what seemed at the time to be a minor adjustment. When PEZ expanded to the United States in the 1953, it added the head to the existing body of the dispenser. Little to the nascent company’s knowledge, this slight modification transformed PEZ dispensers – and, by extension, the PEZ brand – into what they are today. “When one of our engineers designed that head, it just took off,” Vittoria said. “It became popular. It was no longer a smoker’s mint product; it became a child’s product. It became fun.”

Even though the company cemented its identity long before he arrived, Vittoria said he was not content with Pez’s direction when he took his position. “The brand had gone to sleep,” Vittoria pronounced. “When I joined, it was, ‘OK, you got the great brand you wanted, Joe, but, gee, it’s not so shiny.’ So all we did was buff it up.”

***

Starting with the milk route he carried from age five under the watch of his next-door neighbor, Vittoria said he “always found a way to make a buck.” In high school, in addition to his classes, he worked simultaneously as a skate guard, an attendant in a shoe store and as an employee in what eventually became his own car- cleaning business.

After graduating high school, Vittoria attended Iona College in New Rochelle, NY. According to Vittoria, though, he obtained the majority of his education outside the classroom, particularly in watching those around him – in “seeing the people that did well.”

Upon graduation, Vittoria landed a job at IBM as a as a staff accountant. While the $11,000 salary was more than the young Vittoria had ever dreamed of, he was bored. “I was twenty-five layers down in a massive corporation,” he said. “To me, that was like, ‘I’m lost.’”

Always itinerant, ambitious and hard to satisfy, Vittoria moved on: first to International Minerals and Chemicals in Manhattan, then to Almet Aluminum, and finally to Henckels Cutlery. Each time he switched companies, he moved up a notch on the ladder of corporate hierarchy. But his story stayed much the same.

“I was what I considered a ‘jumper’,” he said. “But I knew I got bored quickly. Three years, I had to do something else.”
Years later, Vittoria was recruited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which had audited several of his previous companies, to join their team as a consultant.

“I think that’s the lucky thing I’ve had more than most,” Vittoria admitted. “I’ve worked with some individuals who were accomplished, who were entrepreneurial, who had built things and created them. And I was able to spend a lot of time with them. And, in a conversation with any one of them, I think you learn something every single day.”

Finally, while at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Vittoria got a call from PEZ, which he had unsuccessfully approached about buying while with Henckels two decades earlier.

“They asked me, ‘Well, Mr. Vittoria, we’re not going to sell our company – but would you be interested in operating it for us?’”

***

PEZ is all about branding. “It’s one of those brands that you just remember,” Vittoria explained. “If 85 percent, 90 percent of the population in the States doesn’t know PEZ, I’d be shocked.”

Though the brand existed when he arrived, however, it was far from where Vittoria wanted it to be. “We were portrayed as a low-end novelty that you only find in dollar stores,” Vittoria lamented.

Fortunately, branding and marketing were in Vittoria’s line of expertise. Though he was trained – both academically and in his first few jobs – in finance and accounting, he developed an affinity for manufacturing and marketing over the course of his career, making PEZ’s branding dilemma an especially intriguing puzzle for him when he became CEO. “I came in and said, ‘How do we take this brand, shine it up, clean up the business, make sure we’re ready for growth?’” Vittoria explained.

Vittoria saw Pez’s branding efforts as inextricably intertwined with developing new products that both sold well and evoked a sense of nostalgia for the customer. “If you think about PEZ, you typically think about your childhood,” he said. “And the brand is strong enough that people typically say, ‘Oh, I remember when.’”

Next on Vittoria’s list was identifying the most receptive demographic for the Pez product. The bulk of PEZ’s customer base had always been children. The logical way to get at these children, then, was through their parents. And the way to convince the parent of PEZ’s worth brought Vittoria back to the core of PEZ’s brand identity: the sense of nostalgia.

“The parent had the memory,” Vittoria said. “Parents were still, to this day, buying PEZ dispensers to give to their kids for Christmas, Halloween, Easter.”

While embracing the collector community certainly helped PEZ rediscover its identity, a reorientation of sales strategies has also boosted business. Today, licensing accounts for sixty percent of PEZ’s revenues, whereas seasonal sales used to account for seventy percent, according to Vittoria.

Meanwhile, certain collectors’ sets have of course been smashing hits. Sky- high initial sales of the Lord of the Rings collector’s set, for example, led PEZ to expand its initial production plans of 250,000 sets to 500,000.

In the spirit of creating a more vibrant company atmosphere, Vittoria also took it upon himself to revamp the Pez headquarters from the ground up, turning the existing structure into 55,000-square foot behemoth of a warehouse – twice the size of what it had previously been. PEZ’s improvements in manufacturing efficiency now allow it to produce an astounding 360 twelve-piece rolls of candy per minute.

Rekindling and maintaining distributor relationships were equally important, Vittoria said. PEZ has been a licensee with Disney since 1952. Creating and developing a relationship with Wal-Mart proved vital for the company, too.

Since Vittoria joined PEZ, though, the new product designs have been half the story. Star Wars, Major League Baseball and NCAA football helmets, and Captain Jack Sparrow, to name a few, have joined the more traditional Disney characters on Pez’s shelves.

“To describe what PEZ is today, I think it’s almost back where it should be,” Vittoria posits. “So now we’re looking at new ideas again. We’ve changed flavors. That’s nice. But the dispenser’s still the driver.”

***

Given PEZ’s entrenchment in pop culture, managing public relations is of paramount importance.

PR for PEZ comes in all forms – good and bad.

“We’ve been on RadioShack commercials,” Vittoria said. “We’ve been on Seinfeld. The Food Network came up here and did shows about PEZ.”

Vittoria’s goal with PEZ has always been to stay as apolitical as possible, although, according to Vittoria, there is often nothing the company can do to stop its products from becoming politicized.

“We don’t do political characters on purpose,” Vittoria warned. Even so, Vittoria says he has seen magnets featuring George Bush with a PEZ dispenser head.

PEZ is so intentional about staying true to its mission – to reflect positive emotions in its dispensers – that it turned down Warren Buffet when Berkshire Hathaway asked PEZ to make a figurine of its iconic chairman and CEO.

“He doesn’t have the edge,” Vittoria explained. “Meanwhile, I did the Geico lizard. Why? Because it’s more fun.”

Certainly Vittoria has improved upon some of PEZ’s specific strategies, whether in marketing, product development or elsewhere. But he cites PEZ’s trueness to its original goals as perhaps the most direct contributor to its long-term success.

“All we’re doing to this day, all kidding aside is making that product, that head,” he said. “The candy dispenser? Others have developed it. But that that head, that dispenser, that license, that character, that face – that’s what drives it.”

***

How exactly has Pez gone about doubling in size during Vittoria’s seven years?

“I’ve got to tell you: we’ve gotten lucky, and it’s all about the brand,” Vittoria said.

Though bits and pieces of its operations have changed, PEZ remains much the same as it was in the middle of the twentieth century. Its Connecticut home houses the North America operations and produces the candy, while its European headquarters produces roughly fifty percent of the dispensers, and its affiliates in China produce the other fifty percent.

Vittoria prides himself on his success in embracing the PEZ collector community – marking a distinct difference from PEZ’s past. “When I got here, if the collectors were coming around, they were pushed off the property,” he said. “If they were taking pictures, the police were called.”

Vittoria downplays his personal impact on PEZ’s success. The common thread throughout his experiences, however, seems to be willingness to engage in the communities around him – to develop his “EQ” in addition to his IQ.

Vittoria promotes this strategy for anyone. “The more you get involved in stuff, whether it’s in school or outside school, you pick up on subtleties on how people act, move, discuss – on how things work,” he said. “If you’re a classically trained student, that’s fabulous. But don’t be afraid to learn from touching and doing and feeling, not just reading.”

So Vittoria thinks he has some idea of what has led to his success. But what’s his job from here forward?

He smiles. It’s simple.

“To expand the tradition: to keep it going and to build some more history.”