Over the years, I’ve given a lot of thought to the topic of leadership and doing what I can to build a culture of leadership that gives The Coca-Cola Company a sustainable, long-term advantage.
To me, leadership is all about creating value in whatever you do—and whatever role you are in—and leaving something better than you found it.
The best leaders keep learning, too. They learn from their mistakes and their successes—not only when they’re young, but throughout their careers.
I’ve certainly tried to do this. And listening to others has been absolutely essential to this process. No matter how far you go as a leader, you have to keep seeking advice and good counsel.
At every career stage, I’ve picked up new leadership insights. Early on, I learned vital lessons about developing empathy and respecting cash. Later, I worked on collaborating with others and building networks of trust.
More recently, it has been about setting a vision for the future, communicating priorities, and leveraging credibility and relationships to help our company and bottling system work together as one united team.
It has also been important for me to maintain a long-term perspective on creating value for stakeholders, something many might think would come naturally in a business with 130 years of history. But nothing is automatic.
When I spoke during our shareowners meeting last year, I explained that we’re building this business not only for the next quarter, but also for the next quarter of a century.
To me, making such a statement really comes down to doing what’s right and necessary now so that our future prospects are not harmed, but enhanced.
At its heart, Coca-Cola is a brand business, and our brands are nothing more than promises. If a good brand is a promise, then a great brand is a promise kept. Keeping our promises means never falling into the traps of complacency and arrogance while always being open to change and improvement.
In the last few years, we’ve taken a step back to look at our business and examine how we can become faster, more entrepreneurial, and more efficient.
And we’ve made progress. We’ve broadened our portfolio and packaging choices to serve evolving consumer tastes, revitalized our marketing, facilitated the improvement of our global bottling system, transformed our business in North America, and achieved some of the strongest revenue growth among consumer packaged goods companies. But getting better remains a never-ending journey.
Over nearly 40 years in business, I’ve often said that doing an excellent job is only the starting point—the foundation. It’s about creating the conditions to sustainably repeat success. And, in this case, success is connected to making a promise into the future without a pre-determined outcome—and then taking action to deliver on that promise.
In May, I’ll pass the baton of Coca-Cola (KO) CEO to James Quincey, the right leader at the right time to take our business forward. I’ll continue to serve as chairman of our board, and James will have my full and vigorous support.
James and his team will write the next chapter in Coca-Cola’s story—one that not only addresses the challenges we face, but also further unlocks the potential in our brands, our people, and our system.
Ultimately, leaders are judged by what they leave behind. And I feel very good about Coca-Cola’s prospects to flourish as never before during the balance of this decade and beyond.
For me, this will be the ultimate measure of my career—and my leadership of this great business of refreshing the world.
Muhtar Kent is chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company.