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Is secretive Tootsie Roll Industries the modern day Willy Wonka Factory?

Tootsie Rolls.
Tootsie Rolls.
Brave Heart/flickr Creative Commons

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Tootsie Roll Industries, the candy company that brought you those famous lollipops, Junior Mints and Dubble Bubble, may be aging out of the candy industry. The 116-year-old company is helmed by one of the oldest CEO's in the country.

Melvin Gordon is 92 years old and has been running the company for 50 years with his 80-year-old wife, Ellen. Now, profit margins are down and the company has become so secretive that analysts have given up trying to get information.

The Wall Street Journal has been digging into this, describing Tootsie Roll's Chicago headquarters as a "modern day Willy Wonka factory."

"They've run this company like their own personal fiefdom for a long time, they have control of its stock, they run it like an antique, like some of their candies are," said Wall Street Journal Chicago bureau chief Jason Dean, who has been working on an investigation into the company's future. "Their official explanation for why they don't accept interview requests is they get a lot, and if they give one, they'd have to accept all of them."

Even the way the company communicates to the public is a bit out-dated.

"Their quarterly earnings announcements are usually a couple of pages, they look like they're type-written on old letterhead, they scan them in, they're kind of crooked and post PDFs of these online," said Dean. "They don't do earnings calls, which is commonplace for most listed companies to do, they don't really give analysts any access."

So why is Tootsie Roll Industries's business practices just now making headlines? Dean says its because of the advancing age of the CEOs and the fact that they refuse to release any information as to who might be tasked with running the company in their absence.

"What happens when they aren't running it anymore? I think people are looking ahead to the time when there's a changing of the guard to this icon of the candy industry for the first time in half a century,' said Dean.