Hall of Fame Inductee Dave Onorato Has Built His Career on Trust
HERSHEY, Pa. — As Dave Onorato reflects on nearly four decades with The Hershey Co., he fondly thinks back to his mother’s own burgeoning career in sales. She sold Avon and Tupperware door to door before going on to become a divisional manager at Rubbermaid. Upon her promotion, she shared wisdom with Onorato that he carries with him to this day.
She told him: "People do business with people they like and trust."
"No relationship works without trust, and being in business is all about relationships," said Onorato, this year's supplier inductee into the Convenience Store News Hall of Fame. "If you can establish trust with those around you, who really believe you are working together as a team rooted in trust, there isn’t anything you can't do."
This advice has served Onorato well over the past 37 years working for one of the largest candy companies in the world. Throughout his tenure, the executive has held varying degrees of sales and managerial roles, spanning multiple retail channels. Today, he serves as vice president and general manager for Hershey's small format stores division.
In 2000, he was entrusted with the task of building the sales department around Hershey's convenience store division from the ground up. He considers this the most rewarding journey of his career thus far "because we had to build plank by plank this sales organization into what it is today."
"I believe we are at the top in our industry because we attract talent who have the passion to make this company what it is. As I look at our convenience store sales organization, I am proud of what we built and what we continue to build," he said. "When I look at those team members and how they approach their work every day with retailers and distributors throughout the country, I am so proud and excited to see [how] they evolve as new ways to do things develop in the future."
Onorato recognizes that in today's landscape, it's uncommon to come by people who maintain a decades' long career at one company. The obstacle, he notes, is challenging yourself to change in relevant ways, to accept new ways of getting the work done, and putting your A-game front and center.
"When you work at an organization for as long as I have, there is a tremendous amount of change, and there is a tremendous amount of new talent coming, so there's a challenge to make sure you are changing with the times and that you are making yourself more relevant every day by learning and growing," he explained.
Onorato has had a front-row seat to change in the c-store industry as well. The two most notable shifts in retail, according to the Hershey executive, are continued consolidation and the evolution to omnichannel experiences. On the flip side, the one constant that has remained is people's reliance on confections.
"Candy is a ubiquitous industry. It can be sold anywhere there is a register and, with COVID, we're seeing more than ever people's emotional connection to it," he said. "Candy plays an important role in helping people and bringing a smile to their face. We call it 'bringing moments of goodness to people,' and we really do believe in that."
Reaching this point in his career and attaining Hall of Famer status, Onorato says, has prompted him to think about his journey and how some people are in such a rush with expectations to advance in their careers. He advises up-and-coming leaders to enjoy the voyage and learn something new every day, so they can grow and prepare for the next role ahead.
"We talk about the definition of success is when opportunity meets preparedness, so continue to prepare yourself every day, so when that opportunity hits, you're ready to go," he expressed. "I always tried to be the very best I could be in every job I had, and I think that served me well. At the end of the day, when I got into that next role, I knew I would be ready."