Muhtar Kent, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Coca-Cola Company
Keynote Remarks, World Affairs Council of Atlanta at Commerce Club
November 11, 2011
As prepared for delivery
I want to thank the World Affairs Council of Atlanta for your kind invitation to join you all here today.
In a world that’s more interdependent than ever, the importance of the work all of you on the Council are doing can scarcely be overstated.
Thank you for your passion, your commitment and your good work.
I know you have a special relationship with Georgia State University–an institution that is, every day, becoming more prominent and more important to our shared future.
In would also like to thank the Commerce Club for your hospitality and this great room. And of course a special thank you to the board and other club members for all you do.
For decades, the Commerce Club has been synonymous with the business and civic leadership of Atlanta, including, of course, our own Robert Woodruff. I’m honored to continue this tradition of engagement, and delighted to be here.
Finally, I would like to welcome our Atlanta Coca-Cola shareholders who are here. Thank you for your continued support of The Coca-Cola Company.
Before I begin, I want us to all recognize another group of people.
With all the freedoms we enjoy today, we owe a tremendous debt to those Americans who came before us.
We also owe a vast debt to a group of Americans who, in many cases, risked their very lives to secure a freer, more just and more peaceful world:
Veterans, thanks to you, the people of this country and countries all over the world are immeasurably better off.
On this Veteran’s Day, I invite our veterans to please stand so we can offer a small expression of the gratitude we have for you and your families and those you served with.
An interesting historical note: Coca-Cola’s most dramatic international expansion came alongside American GI’s during World War II.
General Eisenhower requested Cokes for our soldiers overseas, and Mr. Woodruff committed to provide them to the government for a nickel a piece, regardless of cost. Ultimately, thirsty GI’s enjoyed more than 5 billion Cokes… and the 64 bottling plants built in Europe, Asia and North Africa formed the basis of Coca-Cola’s post-war global bottling system.
This is, as many of you know, the 125th anniversary of Coca-Cola.
In 1886, Dr. John Pemberton served the very first Coca-Cola at Jacob’s Pharmacy on Marietta Street, just a short distance from here.
Back in May, we lit up our North Avenue tower as a giant thank-you card to everyone in Atlanta and beyond who has made Coca-Cola what it is today.
Today is, in part, a continuation of that display–a chance for me to say thank you to the leadership of this great city that we’re so proud to call home.
Atlanta and Coca-Cola have grown in tandem for 125 years.
In good times and not-so-good times…
In peacetime and war…
In moments of tragedy and triumph.
It is, in many ways, a great love story between a company and a city.
Between a brand and a community.
Between the people of Coca-Cola and the friends and neighbors we’re honored to work alongside every day.
The special relationship goes back as far as any of us can remember and beyond.
Over the years, it’s been our privilege to contribute to Atlanta and its future.
Many of our city’s great institutions have connections to Coca-Cola:
The Woodruff Arts Center.
Goizueta Business School.
Atlanta University Center.
The Woodruff Library at Morehouse.
And, of course, The Varsity, another great Atlanta institution.
Atlanta gave birth to Coca-Cola, embraced Coca-Cola and loved Coca-Cola before any other community in the world.
Atlanta gave us our formula, our character, our culture, our values, our sense of fun and family and hospitality.
Simply put: there would be no Coca-Cola without Atlanta…and Atlantans.
From day one, Atlantans have been our leaders and our associates, our most enthusiastic customers, investors, boosters and fans.
Even now, about 10 percent of our stock, or about $15 billion dollars, is owned by Georgians and Georgia institutions.
As business grows here in the U.S. and around the world, the positive effects are felt right here at home.
In fact, in the last year alone, $350 million dollars in dividends were injected into the state’s economy.
125 years ago, we made a humble start in a rather small, reconstruction-era Southern town.
And today, both Atlanta and Coca-Cola are large, well-known and vibrant… global in reach and character… embodying optimism and good times… connecting friends, families and communities.
We provide simple moments of pleasure across 206 nations, but, we never forget our roots.
In fact, I like to think that every time a Coca-Cola product is enjoyed–1.7 billion times a day–people in every corner of the globe are getting a taste of the dynamism, vibrancy and hospitality of our hometown.
Today, I want to share a few thoughts about our world, our country, our community and our business.
Let me start with our take on what’s happening in the global marketplace right now. In a word, it’s “mixed.”
North America and much of Europe, as we all know, are still in for an uphill climb in terms of recovery.
Less so for Eastern Europe, and certainly less so for many of the “crisis unaware” markets we see today in parts of Latin America, Africa, and Central and South Asia.
Most economists now believe global GDP will grow just 3.5 percent this year. That said, emerging and developing economies will likely grow in excess of 6 percent while developed economies will grow on average less than 2 percent.
So it’s really a mixed picture. And depending on where you are in the world, it will be a mixed recovery.
Operating in 206 countries, though gives us a unique perspective on the world.
I believe that there are four consistent and inter-connected themes that we all need to focus on as we collectively search for ways to rekindle and unlock the code for growth.
I see these four themes as:
3. Social Harmony, and
4. Sustainable Growth
Let’s start with confidence.
Public trust in our institutions, as you very well know, has been at historical lows these past few years.
Not just in government and Congress, but in big business, education, NGOs and even religious institutions.
Collectively, we must work to restore trust.
And ensuring long-term trust will require repairing our governance models.
This can’t be done independently by one organization.
It’s going to require continued hard work and cooperation among business, government and civil society to ensure that we have processes in place for greater scrutiny and long-term accountability.
The unrest we have seen in Greece, Portugal, Spain and other markets …
– the massive uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East …
– this has all grown out of a lack of confidence … a lack of trust … a breakdown in social harmony.
There’s a feeling among many of lost opportunity… especially among our young.
When people begin to feel that their social mobility has been impaired, we begin to see cracks in the mosaic of social harmony.
Those cracks can only be repaired by growth, investment, innovation and job creation.
No amount of stimulus or new taxes will ever work.
It’s wrong to assume we can tax our way to prosperity.
That’s not how a free market system works.
That’s not how business works.
Quite frankly, that’s not how human nature works.
Collectively, we – all of us — have to grow our way out of this problem.
That’s going to require investment and innovation on our part …
… smart, intelligent incentives on government’s part…
… modern, simple tax reform suited for the 21st Century…
… and a spirit of cooperation on everyone’s part.
We know it can be done.
And we believe America must lead the way.
Make no mistake: The United States is a growth market of immense opportunity.
Forget everything you hear about America’s decline … or diminished relevance.
Instead, ladies and gentlemen, let’s look at the facts.
1. We’re growing: Over the next 40 years, the U.S. is likely to add 100 million people. Our fertility rates–the highest in the developed world–are higher even than much of the developing world.
2. We’re young: By 2050, only a quarter of our population will be over 60, compared with 31 percent in China and 41 percent in Japan–and even higher percentages in much of Europe.
3. We’re multi-cultural: The U.S. remains the world’s top destination for immigrants. In fact, today, according to demographic expert Joel Kotkin, half of all skilled immigrants come to the U.S. Since 1990, these new Americans have launched nearly a quarter of all venture-backed U.S. public companies.
4. We’re enterprising: Two out of 3 new jobs in this country are created by businesses less than 5 years old. Women entrepreneurs alone account for $4 trillion dollars in GDP in the U.S. That’s nearly the entire GDP of China today.
5. We’re innovative: The U.S. produces more patents and inventions than the rest of the world combined.
6. And we’re generous: Today, Americans give over $300 billion dollars a year to charitable causes. The American ethic of service and philanthropy is alive and well, and continues to serve as a beacon for the rest of the world.
When we first started talking about growing our U.S. business, some people thought we were talking about “taking a glider to the moon.”
But, we didn’t just talk: we made the biggest investment in company history, acquiring the American operations of our largest bottler for $12 billion dollars.
This is in addition to the $10.5 billion dollars of new investments we’ve made in our North American business over the last 3 years … and the $1.3 billion in new capital assets we’ve invested in 2011 alone.
These kinds of investments are all tied to that point I made earlier about The Golden Triangle of business, government and civil society working together in a spirit of cooperation to forge smart, intelligent incentives that benefit everyone.
Across the country, we are seeing the power and positive impact of these types of strong, collaborative partnerships.
In 2009, our Bottling Partner in Baton Rouge opened a $178 million dollar bottling plant that has created over 110 new Coca-Cola jobs … and 10 times that number of jobs across our System’s supply chain.
It’s a LEED-certified plant much like the new environmentally sound plant we’re opening next month in South Brunswick, New Jersey. In South Brunswick, we’ve worked with the state’s new Business Action Center to develop what will be our largest plant on the East Coast – an investment that will keep 1,000 jobs in New Jersey.
Far from shipping jobs overseas, we’re creating real and tangible benefits for Main Street America.
Take the case of our Main Street citrus plant in Auburndale, Florida. Yes, it’s really on Main Street!
Last year, I went to Auburndale to inaugurate a $115 million dollar expansion of our operations and to meet with the local suppliers who provide us with citrus for our growing global juice business.
In fact, one third of the entire Florida orange juice crop is now processed at our Auburndale facilities, where 135 new jobs have been created and more than $60 million dollars has been infused in the local community.
Here’s something you might find interesting… the capital improvements we’ve made and the new jobs we’ve created in Auburndale are a direct result of the growing demand we’re seeing for our juice beverages in China.
In fact, about 80 percent of the orange pulp processed at our Auburndale plant will be exported to China alone.
That’s right – our business in China is creating jobs and economic stimulus right here in the U.S.
Think, for a moment, about our nation’s winning attributes–growing, young, multi-cultural, enterprising, innovative and generous.
Those are the same strengths that put today’s Atlanta in a position of real strength.
Just as America is the world’s most global and culturally diverse country, Atlanta is a microcosm of that larger whole.
In Atlanta and across Georgia, we also see great examples of small and large businesses working together to create sustainable growth opportunities.
The important inter-play and mutual-dependency of small and large business cannot be overstated. We need each other and, as Atlantans, we understand that better than most.
Whether it’s Coca-Cola and our small, enterprising retail customers across this community…
Or Home Depot and its North Georgia lumber and hardware suppliers…
Or UPS and its small manufacturing, banking and legal clients…
We see an incredibly potent, synergistic effect when large and small businesses come together to leverage their collective strengths.
These synergies are also where innovation springs from.
Just outside this room is an innovation that combines art, science, entertainment and design.
It brings together RFID and micro-dispensing technologies, a Microsoft operating system and other wonderful inventions.
We call it Coca-Cola Freestyle, a fountain machine capable of providing more than 100 branded beverages.
We developed this fountain of the future in coordination with Dean Kamen–the man behind the Segway and the first insulin pump.
To make Coca-Cola Freestyle as iconic as our contour bottle, we turned to Pininfarina, the Italian designer of Ferraris and other sports cars.
We believe this will be a game-changer for us, giving consumers more choice and interaction and providing us with real-time preference data.
It’s also environmentally friendly, eliminating 30 percent of the water and packaging associated with our traditional fountain business. In time, this will represent a very significant green advantage for us.
Maybe most importantly, Coca-Cola Freestyle is a lot of fun, so be sure to check it out!
Today, there are more than 2,300 Freestyle fountains in 1,500-plus locations in 39 states, and new awards keep popping up in the trophy case.
For our anniversary, we increased Coca-Cola Freestyle’s choices from 106 to 125 with just a software update.
If you’re wondering, much of the work on Coca-Cola Freestyle is being done right here in Atlanta. I’m happy to share that we are investing more than $250 million dollars in a strategic expansion of our Atlanta production and supply system facilities to meet the needs of all our Freestyle fountains.
By the end of 2012, we expect this investment to create 100 new jobs, half with our Company and half with our supplier.
New jobs … new investments … new energy and vitality – all traits we associate with Atlanta.
And, all because our hometown has long been a diverse and welcoming city, consistently attracting skilled and talented people. No one has felt this more than Coca-Cola.
Forty years ago, in 1961, a young engineer and his family fled to this country from Cuba with nothing but $40 and 100 shares of Coca-Cola stock.
That new American would become one of Atlanta’s great business leaders, the late Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, Roberto Goizueta.
Years later, a son of Jewish-Russian immigrants, born in New Jersey, would come here to build a great business…and the world’s largest aquarium.
I’m referring, of course, to Bernie Marcus, the wonderful Atlanta philanthropist, who founded Home Depot along with another great friend of Coca-Cola and this community, Arthur Blank.
And now me … the son of a Turkish diplomat, born in the 50s in New York. Proudly following in the footsteps of the likes of Don Keough and Roberto Goizueta, leading this iconic and quintessential American and Global business system called Coca-Cola.
As a city and a state, I believe we must continue to be open and welcoming.
At the same time, I believe Atlanta must protect the vital infrastructure that fueled our rise as a global city: our standing as a transportation hub.
Today, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport connects Atlanta to the world….and the world, in turn, to Atlanta.
Atlanta remains an important railroad center. In fact, from our offices, I often see the endless lines of rail cars coming to and through this city.
To keep growing and prospering, I believe we must keep enhancing our transportation infrastructure.
Mass transit, yes.
Roads and bridges, yes.
Bike lanes and trails, yes.
And commuter alternatives, yes.
For our part, Coca-Cola is committed to being part of the larger solution.
We already encourage commuter alternatives, from mass transit to car-pooling to teleworking.
And we’ll continue to do more as we reimagine our offices and our business for the 21st century as part of our sweeping Workplace 2020 initiative.
Like much of America, Atlanta today faces significant challenges.
Our economy is struggling… unemployment remains painfully high… homeowners are stressed… and too many good people are out of work.
Even so, I believe our best days are ahead.
As a city, we’ve overcome much worse.
Resilience is part of our DNA.
And the great phoenix that rose from the ashes a century and a half ago will rise yet again.
For the future, I believe that some of our greatest opportunities will be in the area of sustainability-minded innovations like Coca-Cola Freestyle.
And Atlanta can certainly be a global leader in this space, with our people, our companies, our universities and the great, green canopy of trees and natural environments that inspire us all.
For Coca-Cola, a strong, vibrant and sustainable Atlanta is essential to achieving our 2020 Vision for growth.
Now more than ever, as we aim to double our business while reducing our environmental footprint, we need the intellectual capital, the creative capital and the innovative spirit and support of our great hometown.
That’s one reason we’ll continue to be engaged and supportive of every aspect of public life in this city.
Looking ahead, we’re excited about the next great Atlanta institution, coming to Pemberton Place.
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights will be a wonderful complement to the namesake centers of Atlanta’s two Nobel Peace Prize recipients – Dr. King and President Carter.
Today, as Coca-Cola strives to make a positive difference in every community we serve, all around the globe, we cannot and will not forget our hometown… this place that has given – and continues to give – so richly to us.
We believe in this city… we love our friends and neighbors here… and we look forward to contributing to the well-being of Atlanta for the next 125 years and beyond.
Thank you very much!
Watch the slideshow below recounting Coca-Cola’s impact on the Atlanta and Georgia markets.