C&B Notes

Kent Talks Coke

Muhtar Kent, the Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, recently spoke about a range of subjects, including his global vision and plans to double Coke’s 2008 volume by 2020.  We admire Kent enormously and his focus on what is important: “I go to the market at least once a week everywhere I am.  Every time I’m in the market I learn something.”  Understanding how and why customers make their purchasing decisions, whether it is buying a Coke or a state-of-the-art manufacturing robot, is the most important thing for every business.  This remains the focus of our research process.

WSJ: How much time do you spend in Atlanta?

Mr. Kent: About 10 to 12 days in a month.  I go to the market at least once a week everywhere I am.  Every time I’m in the market I learn something.  If you’re not connected to the point where that dollar changes hands and you don’t understand the dynamics of how that dollar or two dollars changes hands, you really cannot do justice to understanding the dynamics around our business.  When I joined the company in 1978, I spent some time on trucks for about 7½ months.

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WSJ: There is growing concern and debate about obesity. How much of a threat does that represent for Coke and the beverage industry?

Mr. Kent: This is an important complicated societal issue that we all have to work together to provide a solution.  That’s why we are working with government, business and civil society to have active lifestyle programs in every country we operate by 2015.  We’ve gone from being a single-beverage, single-brand company to now 500-plus brands, 3,000 products.  Eight hundred of these products we’ve introduced in the last four or five years are calorie-free or low-calorie.  It is, I believe, incorrect and unjust to put the blame on any single ingredient, any single product, any single category of food.