Skip to main content

American Today


Michael Rosenberg Speaks at Meltzer Leadership Series

By Mike Unger

Photo: Michael Rosenberg, president and CEO of Promotion in Motion Companies.

Michael Rosenberg, president and CEO of Promotion in Motion Companies (Photo: Bill Petros)

Sweet success didn’t come easily for Michael Rosenberg.

The founder and CEO of Promotion in Motion Companies, one of the world’s 100 largest candy and snack manufacturers, started his empire from his Anderson Hall dorm room as an American University undergraduate in 1979.

“I came to AU to study violin,” Rosenberg said at the March 25 Alan Meltzer CEO Leadership Speaker Series. “I left as a business owner. Thirty years later we compete with Hershey, Nestle, General Mills, and Kellogg’s, and I’m proud to report we’ve been able to do more than just hold our own.”

Rosenberg has dodged plenty of obstacles along the way, among them multiple lawsuits, banking setbacks, manufacturing challenges, and the loss of licenses.

“It wasn’t always an easy ride,” he told the Kogod School of Business audience, most of who were happily munching on candy and fruit snacks from a goody bag that every guest received. “For the past 30 years, I’ve been putting in 16-hour days, usually seven days a week.”

An admirer of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, Rosenberg pointed to one of the hamburger magnate’s quotes as inspiration.

“Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.”

When Rosenberg started his company, Big Macs were about all he could afford to eat. His initial business account had a whopping $150, but a lack of capital didn’t dampen his enthusiasm. His initial idea was to sell advertising on the side of trucks (thus the name Promotion in Motion), but he quickly shifted courses when he learned a movie version of the play Annie was slated for release in the early 1980s.

He approached Columbia Pictures with a proposal to produce Annie cookies, a concept the studio loved. Getting a cookie company on board proved more difficult, but eventually, Virginia-based Famous Foods signed on. The movie ended up flopping, but the cookies were a hit. Rosenberg was on his way.

Care Bears gummi bears were next, and in the 1990s the company began producing candy under its own brands. Slowly, Rosenberg’s dogged determination got his products onto the shelves of convenience stores, movie theater concession stands, and drug stores.

“Part of being successful is taking risks and pushing the envelope,” he said. “I started going to places where I could make the sale. I needed to get our products to the market.”

Promotion in Motion’s fortunes skyrocketed when it began producing Welch’s fruit snacks about a decade ago. Today it makes more than 1 billion Welch’s consumer units annually.

“Welch’s is the fastest-growing fruit snack in the United States,” Rosenberg said. “You have to find a way to innovate moving forward. We created a superior product with real fruit and no preservatives or glutens, which is a hot topic with today’s consumer.”

With single-color M&M production and other exciting ventures now in its portfolio, the company Michael Rosenberg started in his dorm room 30 years ago looks like it’s headed for even richer successes.

“Trust me, when you’re having a candy bar, it’s all sweet and you’re enjoying it, but it’s a very competitive business,” he said. “One of the great things you learn in college is critical thinking. Hopefully you’re in an environment where you’re starting to understand that competition is ferocious out there. No matter what your chosen field, if you wake up in the morning and you’re driven, nothing is going to hold you back.”