I usually steer clear of unauthorized biographies. Writers like Kitty Kelly pretty well soured me on the tell-all genre. Fluff and innuendo donít set well with me. If the only reason the book is written is to raise some eyebrows, then Iíll just pass.
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Crisis in Candyland: Melting The Chocolate Shell of the Mars Family Empire by Jan Pottker is not exactly a biography, since it deals with an entire family and not with just one member of the Mars clan. The story covers the start up of the Mars candy company and the life of the company over time.
Since Mars is one of the biggest candy companies in the world (M&Ms, Snickers), and since most everyone helps support the company by buying chocolate/rice/pet food, it
seems reasonable to expect some sort of accounting. Mars is privately owned, so they donít have to come clean about what they do and why. Some big family companies opt to do hat anyway, but Mars has always been very secretive. Actually, it goes beyond secretive. If you work for the company and you talk, then you get canned.
When a family lives really large on the money everyone shells out, they have some responsibility to the community. Everyone should have some privacy, but the Mars crowd goes way beyond ďhaving a life.Ē They think they are above any accounting, and Iím sure they were not one bit happy about this book.
Pottker is well educated and has a Ph.D.. That doesnít necessarily mean that she has any sense or that she can write, but this book is well researched and well written. Although a lot of the information is really technical and complicated, Pottker puts the story together so that it is interesting and reads easy.
Much in the tradition of Melvin Hershey, Forrest Mars worked his way up in the candy industry by hard work. That is where the comparisons end. While Hershey was dedicated to his family and community, Mars was just a mean driven man. His father never gave him much love or support, and he just carried out that tradition by treating his own sons and the heirs to the candy business like dirt. Hershey made sure to give back to the community while Mars held right to very cent he could tuck in his pocket.
On the family front, the senior Mars belittled his two sons, young Forrest and John, in front of everyone. He pitted the two sons against each other. Instead of working as a team, they always wanted to one-up each other. This often meant that top level employees bit the dust at the whim of whichever brother was ticked off at given moment. Thedaughter, Jackie, was allowed to draw her share of the profits while she kicked back on the horse farm. She dumped husband number one and then picked up a second. When he got cancer and she decided to pitch in when the company was down, she divorced him and left him out in the cold in more ways than one.
Family problems do happen, but the lack of interest in the community and the world outside the Mars dynasty really is appalling. Most mega-rich families make an effort to try to do some good. The old saying is: ďTo whom much is given, much is expected.Ē That bit of wisdom must have rolled off the Marsí backs.
If the Mars family pitched in anything, it was very minimal. They gave M&M candies to the school where their kids attended for example. When they decided to pitch Uncle Ben rice with a black cook over an American flag in Africa, they could only muster up $5000 for scholarships for minority students. When other rich companies or families kicked in millions to help out, the donation from Mars might be $1000.
The only measure of success for Mars is rank in the industry and money brought in. Even though Hershey makes sure to support the town of Hershey and also runs a school for kids in need, they still stay right on the heels of Mars (or ahead). Obviously, Hershey wants to be a major player too, but they remember that the money they bring in comes from the pockets of everyday people on the street.
Iím glad I read this book. Itís nice to know how the profit from what I buy is used. I like a good price and a good product. I donít mind to see people live the good life when they make good stuff. But, I do expect some human compassion and giving mixed in with the profits. That certainly seems to be lacking in the Mars model. I donít like to support a company that runs over the employees. I donít like to support a company that thinks that the peons are not worth a few dollars of help. I donít stand behind people who think that they are entitled to do whatever they want and not stand up for those actions.
The next time I go to the store, Iíll check the labels. I would rather put my money on Hershey than Mars. They both make good chocolates, but Hershey has way more heart than Mars. My few dollars may not mean much to the Mars company, but it does reflect what matters to me. Mars refused to let ET eat M&Ms (so Hershey Reeseís Pieces were selected), they ran ads that indicated that chocolate was healthy and prevented tooth decay, and they dissed girls with a ďfunnyĒ ad slamming girlsí schools. When you put these tacky sales approaches on top of the crummy way they o business, Iíll be a Hershey girl any day.
Pottker did not sell a lot of books about Mars. She was picked up by a small press--National Press Books. hough it may be hard to find Crisis in Candyland, this is a very solid book. I suspect that Candyland may get more exposure soon. The Barnum & Bailey folks went ballistic when Pottker wrote a book about that empire. They went so far as to hire an x-CIA exec to follow Pottker around. When the feds get worried, then you can figure that the writer is dishing stuff that companies donít want told.
I donít care much about the personal lives of those who have hit it big in our world, but when it does have an impact on the society, then I do want to know. If the money I spend on candy helps in some small way indirectly, then that is a good thing. When it just makes the rich richer, then that is not very special.