Editorial: Bill Wrigley, culture shaker

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It's a shame in some ways that Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. didn't prevail in its bold $12.5 billion bid to acquire Hershey Foods. It would have been interesting to see young Bill Wrigley Jr. shake up the sleepy culture of Chocolate Town as he has in Wrigleyville.

In his short tenure at the top of Wrigley, the 38-year-old CEO has shattered convention at the 111-year-old marketer. He's dared to reinvent its advertising with edgy executions that would once have been considered too risky. He's challenged former sacred cows (for example, by introducing the Chicago company's first non-gum product in almost a century). And, although eventually thwarted by the Hershey Trust, he shocked the industry by aggressively going after the country's No. 1 confectioner.

Some say Hershey would have been too much for Wrigley to chew. That's entirely possible given the high offering price. But there is sweet irony in the fact that a staid, old-line marketer such as Wrigley wanted a crack at energizing Hershey, itself a stodgy bastion of conservatism.

To its credit, Wrigley was said to have laid careful plans to safeguard the Hershey corporate name and headquarters so crucial to the existence of Hershey, Pa. But it's unlikely Bill Wrigley would have remained so hands-off with its products. He would have challenged under-performing brands and set the creative bar higher, as he has at Wrigley.

Belatedly, Hershey has recognized its shortcomings and is moving forward with a plan to introduce new, more closely targeted products while also boosting spending on improved creative. But as the chocolate company has learned the hard way after its aborted sale, changing corporate culture is easier said than done.

That's why Bill Wrigley's feat has been so remarkable at the gum maker. Certainly, it remains to be seen whether his tradition-rattling strategy will ultimately be successful. But you don't win by not trying.

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