Coca-Cola—Creating Value, Engaging Stakeholders

Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, met in Athens with Business Partners publisher and editor Raymond Matera to discuss how the company approaches operating a global business while focusing on the needs of local communities.

Muhtar Kent, in Athens, shares the company’s long-term strategy for growth with the company’s bottling partners from around the world.

As Greece strives to create growth and employment, how would you position this effort in the context of today’s crisis—in Greece and globally?

All economies in the world are trying to change and transform—and we collectively call it a crisis when growth stops or slows down. However, I think it should be called a transformation of world economies; less of a reliance on continued growth and trade versus a consumer-driven economy. For instance, China is focusing less on exporting and more on consumer growth. This, to a certain extent, has slowed global growth as it imports fewer raw materials and exports fewer finished products.

And Greece has found itself embarking on a transformation. Greece has a great, educated population, and unbelievable entrepreneurial spirit, and Greeks themselves must believe the transformation their country is undergoing can lead to an opportunity to create a better future for the next generation of Greeks.

The Greek people are said to work more hours than anyone else in Europe. From your experience, to what extent are the Greek people supporting the effort of recovery?

From my experience, and I’ve known Greeks since I was a child, Greeks have a great spirit, are great contributors, and are hard workers. Remember, Greece is the center for Coca-Cola’s Central and Southern Europe Business Unit—comprising 23 countries – and we have witnessed firsthand the unique work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit of the Greek people. In fact, we have exported a good deal of Greek talent around the world where they have performed exceptionally well.

Our bottling partner, Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (HBC), is an excellent example of how a Greek company become global with vision, hard work and sound entrepreneurial ventures. I would like to recognize the critical role of the late Andrew David, former chairman of Coca-Cola HBC, who with his entrepreneurial spirit and solid business values, created a multi-national that today is one of our largest bottling partners globally. Andrew David’s brother, George David, and his son, Anastassis G. David, the recently announced new Chairman of Coca-Cola HBC, are continuing this legacy.

Investment is at the heart of growth and well-being. How does Coca-Cola view the investment climate today?

Coca-Cola is vigorously investing in Greece. In 2015, a year of capital controls and low domestic business activity, our bottling partner, Coca-Cola Tria Epsilon, announced a 24-million Euro investment to transform Schimatari into a mega-plant, while Coca-Coca Hellenic Group invested 43-million Euro for a new data center in Athens, servicing 28 markets where it operates. In addition, we have selected Greece as the ‘heart’ of our social media activity for the 23 countries of our Central and Southern Europe Business Unit, where we are able to track social media activity related to our brands and engage directly with our consumers. In Greece, together with our bottling partner, we employ more than 1,800 people and our latest socio-economic  impact study shows that for every System job we create, 11 more are supported in our supply and distribution chain. It may be a bad time if you choose to look to the ground; if you look ahead, and imagine what is possible, there is a great future for the people of Greece.

What is the importance of having rigorous governance standards that respond to the demands of either a company or a country?

My board of directors and I place a great deal of importance as to how we are governed as a social and business system. We start with this belief: we cannot optimize value creation for our shareholders unless we contribute meaningfully in value creation for all our stakeholders—employees and associates around the world, where we employ more than 700,000 people. We must create value for our bottling partners, our consumers, our customers, NGO partners, civil society, governments and of course, shareholders. Governance is built around value creation and having a social license to operate.

Today, sustainability, inclusion, and diversity are important to social and economic health. What is your position on such key issues?

At the heart of our approach is our three W’s—water, women, and well-being. As one of the biggest users of water in the world we set a goal in 2010 to become water neutral in the world by 2020—something we achieved in 2015. This relates to the 350 billion liters of water we use annually. Our second goal is to promote women’s empowerment through entrepreneurial projects—making communities stronger throughout the world. We train women in basic accounting, stock rotation, distribution, logistics, and hygiene, to become retailers—not just with our products but a variety of products. Next, we bring them together with micro credit supplied by IFC (International Finance Organization). We hope to empower 5 million women by 2020—the largest women’s empowerment program of its kind in the world. So we experience a great multiplier effect. I firmly believe in the saying, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” Well-being—financial, physical and mental – relates to the community  programs we have in place globally to support the sustainability of the places where we proudly live and work.

The global community of philhellenes has been pro-active during today’s crisis. How important are initiatives that catalyze support and direct action?

In collaboration with business leaders committed to help Greece, including George David and Andrew Liveris, we co-founded The Hellenic Initiative aimed at helping Greece during its transformation. We support both entrepreneurship and internship programs—bringing interns to Atlanta for instance—and the Global Shapers community in cooperation with the World Economic Forum. Coca-Cola has spearheaded various programs in Greece to help increase youth employment and unleash the Greek entrepreneurial spirit.

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