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Mr. Wrigley Builds a Candy Empire

Too often today, business leaders (especially successful ones) get a bad rap as miserly, money-grubbing, selfish, and uncaring. Although you’re bound to find some business people who are those things, for the most part, they are not. Rather, if one looks back into history with an unbiased eye, he can find many business people who are exemplars of the very opposite characteristics. Those are the people who make free enterprise work, resulting in not only their own success but also that of others. William Wrigley Jr., who died this week in 1932, was one such person.

When William Wrigley Jr. was born in Philadelphia, the Civil War had just begun. Early in his childhood and throughout his life, he exhibited traits that made him a successful businessman and that make him an exemplar for others.

1. He had a strong work ethic.

Wrigley’s father was a soap manufacturer, and even as a child William sold that soap on the streets of Philadelphia, walking about with a basket of soap on his arm. As a teenager, he advanced to a team and wagon, which he took into the small towns surrounding Philadelphia, selling soap and convincing store owners to stock it. As a result, Wrigley soap sales did well. But none of Wrigley’s future success would have been possible without his willingness to work hard.

2. He had a dream and a vision for the future.

As good as his sales record was, Wrigley wanted to do better. He wanted to improve himself, to advance in life. And he didn’t want to be tied to his father’s business. Rather, he wanted to be his own boss, to work for himself. In 1891, with only $32 in his pocket, he left home to seek his fortune in Chicago. He started out there still selling his father’s soap, but he introduced incentives (or “premiums”) to his sales arsenal. He gave a free can of baking powder to store owners if they would stock the soap. Sales increased.

3. He could see the consumers’ viewpoint and change his methods to meet changing market needs.

Wrigley soon noticed that his baking powder gifts were more in demand than his soap, so he started selling the baking powder and got out of the soap-selling business. But he continued to offer an incentive–a free pack of gum for every can of baking powder purchased. That ploy proved successful, but demand for the gum soon surpassed the demand for the baking powder.

4. He was willing to innovate.

In 1893, during an economic depression, Wrigley introduced a new gum flavor, which he called Juicy Fruit(R). The new gum proved so popular that in 1911 he was able to buy the company that had been making the gum for him. He then introduced two other flavors: Spearmint(R) and Doublemint(R).

The spirit of innovation extended throughout Wrigley corporate leadership even after his death, and the company introduced no less than six other kinds of gum between 1974 and 2001 [Freedent(R), Big Red(R), Extra(R), Winterfresh(R), Eclipse(R), and Orbit(R)]. It also pioneered the use of bar codes for pricing in 1974.

5. He was willing to take risks.

Just like the nation itself, the Wrigley company weathered its share of economic problems. But Wrigley was an entrepreneur, and he could see opportunities where others saw only risk. In 1907, during an national economic downturn, Wrigley mortgaged everything he owned and spent $250,00 to buy $1.5 million in advertising. That great risk paid off: the company became national in scope. Sales increased dramatically, topping $1 million in 1908.

Taking risks for expansion has also been an ongoing characteristic of the company since Wrigley’s passing. For example, the company opened additional factories in Santa Cruz, California (1954) and Gainesville, Georgia (1971). It also bought out the Life Savers(R) brand, which had been introduced in 1912 by chocolate maker Clarence Crane as a “summer candy” less susceptible to melting. Today, Wrigley is in more than 40 countries, and its products are distributed in more than 180 countries.

6. He was willing to accept social responsibility.

Wrigley’s focus was not just on making money for himself; he had a sincere desire to do good for both his employees and the public. In 1916, he established a “health and welfare department” for his employees. In 1919, the company went public, and Wrigley offered his employees stock, giving them a stake in the company’s success and adding another incentive to work hard. In 1924, Wrigley became one of the first American companies to give employees a five-day work week with Saturday and Sunday off, and he offered employees a $300 paid-in-full life insurance policy after three months of employment, not a small benefit in the Twenties.

Wrigley’s public spiritedness continued in the company beyond his death. During World War II, sugar rationing prevented the production of the high-quality gum that the public had come to expect, so Wrigley suspended domestic sales of the regular products and devoted that production to military personnel. It introduced a substitute, Orbit(R), for the domestic market. To keep the company’s main brands in the public eye, the company ran a “Remember This Wrapper” ad campaign. They reintroduced Spearmint(R) and Juicy Fruit(R) in 1946 and Doublemint(R) in 1947.

7. He recognized the importance of advertising.

Perhaps Wrigley’s real genius was his recognition of the importance of advertising and how it could be used. His offer of incentives, of course, was one smart use of advertising. But in 1915 he pioneered direct marketing when he sent free samples of gum to every name listed in the phone books of the nation. He later distributed Mother Goose booklets to children on their second birthday. He also arranged for the distribution of the booklets in schools, especially in poor areas, as an aid to learning.

Wrigley became known as the father of modern advertising. His advertising savvy grew with the company. In 1939, the company began the concept of the Doublemint(R) Twins in advertisements, and it developed into one of the most successful and longest-lasting campaigns ever. At first, they featured double piano players, double violinists, and even double-talking comedians. But the apex was the introduction of actual twins, Joan and Jane Boyd, in 1961-64.

When William Wrigley Jr. died on January 26, 1932, his net worth was approximately $34 million. That was a long way from the $32 he had brought with him forty-one years earlier!

In 2008, Wrigley was bought out by Mars, Incorporated, one of the largest family-owned businesses in the nation. Mars operated on five principles: quality, responsibility, efficiency, mutuality, and freedom. William Wrigley Jr. would be proud.

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