Inside Coca-Cola - A CEO’s life story of building the world’s most popular brand

The story of building, marketing and re-creating the Coca-Cola brand has never been told by an insider until the publication of a remarkably candid book, Inside Coca-Cola; a book written by Neville Isdell, the former CEO of the world’s most recognised and successful brand and published by St Martins Press, New York.

Inside Coca-Cola is a rich resource for understanding key lessons on managing a global company, people’s behavior towards brands, companies’ responsibilities towards society and leadership and explains how profits can be squeezed even from the most uncompromising markets and profit maximisation and social responsibility need not necessarily be mutually exclusive objectives.

The 241 paged-book is unique in the sense that it is a first endeavour by a CEO whose 40-year career at the company enabled him to deal with key decision-making, which included the purchasing of Thumps-Up and allied brands like Limca and Maaza and come up with a well-thought out corporate strategy to re-enter India in the mid 1990s.

In his debut book, the Coca-Cola CEO tells an extraordinary personal and professional worldwide story, ranging from Northern Ireland to South Africa; Australia to the Philippines; Russia to Germany and from India to Turkey.

Also, in this engaging and refreshingly candid memoir, Isdell combines personal and professional anecdotes to tell the story of his 30 years at Coca-Cola, from his first job as a young man at a bottler operation in Zambia to his challenging years in the C-Suite. Through Isdell’s global postings across eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Philippines and Africa, the reader is led through an inside view of a corporate behemoth’s international journey of expansion and its struggle for market share.

Isdell helped put out huge public relations fires in India and Turkey; opened markets in Russia, eastern Europe, Philippines and Africa. He championed Muhtar Kent; the current Turkish-American CEO. He did all this while living the ideal of corporate responsibility. His story comprises of lessons appealing to anybody who has ever taken “the pause that refreshes” and a readable and important look at how companies can market and govern themselves more ethically and to great success.

Recollections of conversations and life choices with his wife and constant supporter, Pamela, permeate the pages and humanise what could have been a formulaic business memoir; through his lively dialogue and vivid storytelling, giving the reader an image of a husband, a father, a rugby player and a champion for social responsibility in the world through a turnaround. Isdell’s debut work is captivating and delightful, sure to simultaneously charm and enlightens readers about global business and leadership.

The author retraces his youth when he and his family moved from northern Ireland (where Coke was considered “exotic”) to Africa, where his tall stature served him well on and off the rugby field as well as after college when he delivered crates of Coke in the newly independent Zambia. This ended with him being called back from retirement at age 60 with the challenge to turn around the fortunes of the company.

Employing a flat, workman-like tone, the author reiterates the locales of his successful upper-management career, which he spent boosting profits in sagging “turnaround markets” in Australia, central Europe and India, then strategises the perpetual rivalry with Pepsi in the Philippines.

He also fair-mindedly details Coke’s darker days - the 1997 death of esteemed leader Roberto Goizueta and the company’s 2004 scrutiny by the SEC for exaggerated sales figures and the suspected terrorism of Colombian union workers.

Spicing facts with anecdotes, the management lessons in the book are inherent and these include an absolute belief in the brand, communication of straightforward goals, standards of loyalty and fairness that he set for himself and expected from others and an absence of arrogance.

He writes that stakeholder participation in drawing up the manifesto ensured the buy-in that refocused Coca-Cola. Its core values, related to sustainable growth were those of Isdell as they guided him in settling legacy issues such as an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission into allegations of shipping excessive concentrate to Japanese bottlers; an antitrust probe threatened by European regulators and accusations of hiring death squads to frighten Colombian trade unions.

Neville Isdell is the former chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola originally from Ireland. He grew up in Zambia and attended college in South Africa where he received a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences from the University of Cape Town and is a graduate of Harvard Business School Program for Management Development. He serves on the boards of a number of non-profit organisations including CSIS and the World Wildlife Fund; chairs the Investment Climate Facility and is a member of the board of directors of General Motors and the global leadership panel of the UN special representative for business and human rights. PF