National Press Club

Coca-Cola CEO Sees Bright Future for His Company, U.S.

December 2, 2010

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent

Photo/Image: Rodrigo A.-Valderrama

As Coca-Cola Co., an American corporate icon, approaches its 125th anniversary, its best days are ahead, said chairman and CEO, Muhtar Kent, at a Luncheon Dec. 1. And the same goes, he said, for the United States.

Calling himself “an unabashed optimist,” Kent predicted “unprecedented levels of growth and prosperity for years to come” for the U.S., which in turn provides “an incredible opportunity” for Coke to build upon its already-entrenched position one of the world’s best-known brand names.

A main reason for his bullishness, Kent said, is the U.S.’s population growth; the nation has the highest fertility rate in the developed world. He also pointed out that the U.S. is “a young society,” with only 25 percent of its population projected to be over 60 by the year 2050.

Moreover, Kent said, the U.S. is multi-cultural, entrepreneurial, innovative and committed to charitable giving – all marks of prosperous society.

Kent , a Turkish-American, drew parallels between the current national mood of pessimism with that of 1978, the year he joined Coke. Then, he said, fears abounded that the U.S. was losing its global and economic leadership to Japan.

Instead, Kent said, “the U.S. got stronger. It re-innovated, re-invented itself.” He sees the same happening now.

But to fulfill its potential, Kent said, the nation must increase emphasis on policies to improve innovation, education, entrepreneurship and international trade.

As for Coke, he said the company is strengthening itself for the future through its “Vision 2020” program, under which it hopes to double its business in the next decade. “We hope to accomplish in the next 10 years what we’ ve done in the last 124 years,” he said.

Included in the program, he said, is a $12 billion restructuring of its North American operations that is aimed at being a model for the company’s units throughout the world.

Kent defended Coke’s efforts in the U.S.’s campaign to combat obesity. “We are not the problem,” he said, “we are part of the solution.” He noted that of the company’s 3,000 products, 800 now are free of calories. He also said the company is increasing the amount of information it provides about its ingredients on its packaging.

Asked about suggestions that taxes be levied on soft drinks – both to increase federal revenue and to combat obesity – Kent called them “a bad idea with no merit.”

Kent, who also is chairman of the U.S.-China Trade Council, an association of companies that do business with China, called for more give and take in negotiations between the two countries on export controls and other trade issues. He called the bilateral U.S.-China relationship “is the most important in the world.”

Even as Kent was speaking, an example of Coke’s innovations stood in the Club hallway. It was one of company’s new “Free Style Fountains,” a machine that can dispense thousands of versions of Coke products -- one at a time, upon demand -- that is being market-tested. “It will be a game-changer … a very significant advantage for our business,” Kent predicted.

-- Bill Miller,