CEO who managed the Hershey Trust's billions resigns

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The private Hershey Trust Co. manages and has fiduciary oversight of the $13.5 billion in assets for the Milton Hershey School. It is based in the former Milton S. Hershey mansion in Hershey, Pa.

Eric Henry, the banker who managed the $13.5 billion in assets for the Milton S. Hershey School, has resigned as CEO of Hershey Trust Co., saying he would pursue “other professional opportunities.”

The Milton Hershey School is the nation’s richest private school, serving impoverished children. The Hershey Trust Co. functions as charitable school’s investment-management arm. Henry — who was paid $1.4 million in 2016,  the most at the charity, tax filings show — also resigned as chairman of the charity-owned Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co., which operates HersheyPark.

Hershey Trust spokesman Peter Shelly would not comment on Henry’s resignation beyond a statement, noting that the school had grown from 1,850 students in 2012 to 2,050 students in 2018 under his leadership. And the completion of its North Campus will enable it to serve 2,300 students by the 2022-23 school year.

“I’d like to thank Eric for his service to the trust and wish him well in his future endeavors,” Robert C. “Bob” Heist, the chairman of the board at the Hershey Trust Co., said in the statement.

Henry departs as the charity is seeking four additional board members — the same people serve on the separate boards of both the Milton Hershey School and the Hershey Trust Co. — to reach a target of 13 members as part of an agreement with the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office in 2016. Henry was not a member of the boards.

The board has been investigated by the Office of Attorney General for financial irregularities. Attorney General Josh Shapiro has told the super-rich school that it should expand and help many more poor Pennsylvania children.

The attorney general’s office had no comment Thursday on Henry’s resignation.

A woman who answered Henry’s phone at the Hershey Trust Co. said Thursday that he had resigned and was not available there. The statement said a national search was underway to replace him.

Henry, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, previously served as executive director at Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System.

Henry joined the Hershey Trust Co. as chief executive officer and chief investment officer in February 2012, replacing Reese chocolate family scion Robert Reese. The charity’s assets have grown over the last six years from $9 billion to its current $13.5 billion, which is more than $1 billion larger than the University of Pennsylvania’s endowment. The central Pennsylvania school’s largest asset is a controlling stake in the Hershey Co. chocolate giant. Hershey Co. stock dividends help pay for school operations.

The Hershey chocolate giant reportedly rejected an offer of $115 a share from snack giant Mondelez in 2016 and its stock has stumbled this year on concerns about chocolate consumption in the United States. Shares closed at 93.29 a share on Thursday, down from more than $115 in December 2017.

Last August, the charity sold some of its assets back to the Hershey chocolate company for $475 million, a deal that Henry noted helped diversify its assets. In addition to Hershey stock, the charity owns a big portfolio of non-chocolate investments, Hershey Entertainment, and about 10,000 acres of land in the Hershey area.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to help advance the mission of the Milton Hershey School in providing its students with the very best education,” Henry said in the statement. “The school continues to grow and add students. I am very proud to have played a role in helping to chart such a bright future for the trust, the school, and, most importantly, the students.”