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Climbing the Snack Ladder

Howard friedman utz ceo 20230829 012 jo dsonmagf23

Photo by Joe O'Neill.

Howard Friedman ’92 follows his gut to the top of corporate America. 

by Tony Moore

Howard Friedman ’92 has been steering a snack ship or two for more than 25 years, first working his way up through the ranks of Kraft Heinz (culminating his tenure as executive vice president) and then Post (chief operating officer; president and CEO of Post Consumer Brands, Post’s flagship cereal business). And he’s wrangled such brands as Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Oscar Meyer, Lunchables and Pebbles cereal at the highest levels.

In December 2022, he became the CEO of Utz, the legendary Hanover, Pa., snack company known best for its eponymous chips and colorfully named brands such as Zapp’s, Dirty, Golden Flake and TGI Fridays Snacks. Friedman’s more than 20 years’ experience in the business prepared him well to take the reins of the 102-year-old company, and so did his time at Dickinson.

The Path From Dickinson

“I think you'll get this response for most people,” says Friedman, a former economics major, on the foundation of his undergrad experience. “The value of learning how to think and learning how to process disparate information was part and parcel to the Dickinson experience.”

As Dickinson emphasizes, it’s more than information, more than what students learn in the classroom, that counts. There’s an intangible facet to it all, something that emerges as students learn how to trust themselves as they develop their intellectual arsenal.

“You have to learn and understand what the evidence says,” Freidman begins, “and have an opinion when your gut says, ‘Something's not totally true about this. Let me examine the entire topic; let me debate it.’ ”

That kind of processing is a nonstop endeavor for Friedman, whose career has been centered on juggling macro- and microeconomic factors, supply-and-demand fluctuations and taking care of thousands of employees.

“It’s not always easy,” he says, “and I think largely the seeds [for handling these issues] were planted at Dickinson—making connections between two or three different concepts and creating an organizing opinion, the ability to consume a lot of information and distill it down.”

‘Where the Magic Tends to Be’

Friedman was in ROTC at Dickinson and served in the Army as a logistics officer in Seoul, Korea, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, finishing his military career as a captain.

“When I got out of the Army and I went to Kraft, MBAs were really the only people they were interviewing at the time,” Friedman says, “And several people in the division I was interviewing for had heard of Dickinson, knew of its academic rigor and the experience that students get out of it. And it actually helped to get me the job without an MBA.”

Friedman did go on to earn his MBA, in marketing and finance, from New York University’s Stern School of Business. From there, he continually found success through his ability to adapt and trust his instincts.

“Understanding where the data and your intuition meet is where the magic tends to be,” Friedman says. “And that’s very much what the liberal arts turns out to look like.”

So where does the magic happen for someone like Friedman? It could be anything from navigating what insiders at Post called the Great Grape Nuts Shortage of 2021, a self-explanatory event that ended up being discussed on CNN (and quickly overcome), or the so-called Velveeta Cheese Apocalypse a few years before.

Now, it’s taking the reins at Utz, a business that’s been growing steadily (to a billion-plus market capitalization) and went public three years ago. Friedman sees his role as another opportunity to do what he has done best across his career: helping established companies succeed at a higher level.

“If you think about the businesses I’ve run, from Kraft until now, they tend to be larger in scope and a little bit more complicated. And we are now larger in scope and a little more complicated, so it was just a great time to come in,” he says of how his Utz role fits his leadership style to a T. “The culture here is amazing, and I’m excited to be here. And I’m just 30 miles down the road from Dickinson, so what more could you ask for?”

All Roads Lead to Carlisle

Speaking of Utz’s proximity to Carlisle, Friedman came back to campus for his 25th reunion, and he returned recently to take part in the annual Profiles in Leadership course, run by Steve Riccio, senior lecturer in international business & management. And again, it’s the space where worlds meet that catches Friedman’s attention.

“I have lifelong friends from Dickinson, and I've run into a couple of them in my professional life, which has been tremendously gratifying,” Friedman says. “And as I walk through campus, I enjoy being back, because it feels like it did when I was there. It's funny, because I was an Army officer, and the War College was in Carlisle, and in business, a major customer was there. So in my ecosystem, everything comes back to Carlisle.”

Read more from the fall 2023 issue of Dickinson Magazine.

TAKE THE NEXT STEPS 

Published November 21, 2023