William Wrigley Jr.? Ezra Pound? Henry Ford? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Constructive debate about future plans is essential in a responsive and vibrant company. Here are three versions of a popular business adage:
When two men in a business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.
When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.
When two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary.
This expression has been ascribed to the poet Ezra Pound, the industrialist Henry Ford, and the businessman William Wrigley Jr. Would you please explore its provenance?
Quote Investigator: There is no substantive support for crediting the saying to Ezra Pound or Henry Ford. Attributions to Pound and Ford appeared only in the 21st century.
William Wrigley Jr. built a company and a fortune by selling chewing gum in the United States and around the world. In 1931 Wrigley was interviewed in “The American Magazine” and stated that he preferred an employee with backbone who was willing to challenge him and sometimes tell him “I think you’re wrong”.
The article titled “Spunk Never Cost a Man a Job Worth Having” reported that Wrigley disliked the yes-man who reflexively concurred with all his statements. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
Likewise, one of the biggest pests in business is the carbon copy—the fellow who always says: “Yes, Mr. Wrigley, you’re absolutely right.”
Perhaps meaning: “Have it your own way, you old buzzard, what do I care!”
Business is built by men who care—care enough to disagree, fight it out to a finish, get facts. When two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary.
The passage above was the earliest strong match known to QI. The topic was business, but the statement did not include the word “business”.
Thanks to top-notch researcher Barry Popik who obtained the database evidence that pointed to the citation above.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- March 1931, The American Magazine, Volume 111, Number 3, Spunk Never Cost a Man a Job Worth Having by Neil M. Clark, Start Page 63, Quote Page 63, Published by The Crowell Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Verified with scans thanks to Charles Doyle and the University of Georgia library system) ↩