Fundamental Global Investors: A Christmas Story with “Ralphie”
Frank Cerminara and The Hershey Company
My dad is a classic American success story. This is the story about Frank Cerminara’s life, his career at the Hershey Company, and how my sister Lisa and I grew up childhood friends with “Ralphie” from The Christmas Story - the Ralphie that will “shoot your eye out” with a Red Ryder BB gun.
My dad was born in Savelli, a small town in the Calabria region of Southern Italy. When he was 7 years old, his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and 6 siblings all boarded a passenger ship for New York City to permanently move to the United States.
There were factory jobs in a small town in West Virginia outside of Pittsburgh and the Cerminara and Santoro families all settled in the Follansbee and Weirton, WV area. They didn’t speak English, had very little money and times were not easy. But they were hard working and optimistic and everyone in the family chipped in and got a job while attending school. They hunted for food and didn’t waste anything. They shared homes and beds and took care of each other. Neighbors and new friends taught them to speak English. They adapted to their new home in America.
My dad became an excellent student and graduated #2 in his high school class. He received scholarships to attend West Virginia University, which was all he could afford. He majored in industrial engineering at West Virginia University while working multiple jobs including serving as a resident assistant in the dormitory. He met a fellow resident assistant that turned out to be his future wife and my mom, Susan Cerminara.
My parents graduated from West Virginia University and moved to Philadelphia where my dad attended the Wharton School to get his MBA. My mom worked as a teacher to pay for his tuition and they took on significant student loans and lived very modestly.
After finishing business school, my dad joined the Hershey Company in what would be his first and only company that he would work for during his 30+ year career.
My sister and I were born in the 1970s and my dad was beginning his career in marketing at Hersheys. At the time, chocolate syrup was all sold out of a can that required a can opener. My dad came up with the idea to sell Hershey's Chocolate syrup out of the plastic squeeze bottle that we have all come to love today.
A marketing campaign was needed for the new chocolate syrup and my dad discovered a 9 year old actor named Peter Billingsley. Along with a talented marketing team, my dad created the character “Messy Marvin” that would ultimately make Peter Billingsley very famous over the next few years. As young children growing up, my sister Lisa and I spent many hours watching Messy Marvin ads being filmed. We also took Peter Billingsley and his family to Hershey Park and entertained them frequently in Hershey.
A few years later, Peter Billingsley starred as “Ralphie” in the perennial Christmas favorite The Christmas Story. Every year when the movie comes on I am reminded of my childhood and the time spent with Peter as a kid.
Over the course of my dad’s 30+ year career at Hersheys, he held senior level positions in marketing, finance, purchasing, M&A and several other areas culminating in the CFO position in his last few years. Institutional Investor Magazine named him one of the best CFOs in America in 2004.
My dad is now retired and spends a lot of time with his 5 grandchildren and the rest of his family. He is an amazing husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend to everyone that knows him.
While I am very proud of everything my dad accomplished, I am more proud of the person he is and the character he exudes every day. He is a wonderful role model for his kids and grandkids and I feel blessed to have him as my dad. The same can be said for my wonderful mom.