Neville Isdell capped off his retirement by becoming the king of pop.
Neville Isdell has arguably had the encore career to end all encore careers. Comfortably retired from his position as vice chairman of the world's second largest Coca-Cola bottler, Isdell and his wife were enjoying life on the Caribbean island of Barbados in 2004 when he was tapped to become the CEO and chairman of the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company.
Running the world's most famous brand may seem like a dream job, but as Isdell relates in his autobiography, the Coke of 2004 was a company in turmoil: It was losing market share, suffering thousands of layoffs, under SEC investigation and even accused of hiring right-wing death squads to terrorize union organizers in Columbia. A court-appointed task force was scrutinizing its hiring practices following the settlement of a major discrimination lawsuit, and the European Union was investigating whether the company had violated antitrust laws.
Isdell, who agreed to lead the company for five years, prescribed a measured yet profound redefinition of Coca-Cola's mission. Rather than diversify, it would re-focus on its core beverage business by investing in bottling operations--traditionally independent franchises--worldwide.
After touring the world and getting to know Coca Cola's global operations firsthand, Isdell gathered his direct reports to launch a four-month process to hammer out the strategy. The result of their effort is the Manifesto for Growth, six tenets that can serve as lessons for corporations large and small and are still the core of Coke's mission to this day.
"The manifesto provided Coca-Cola with a framework for who we are, a clarity of vision, and a clarity of tactics that soon started to permeate the company," Isdell writes. He spent much of his energy in the ensuing months rallying employees to the cause, and their reaction was enthusiastic. His five years at the helm are widely hailed as a return to the company's former glory, and the smooth transition of power to current CEO Muhtar Kent is proof of Isdell's belief that "I do not have a legacy unless my successor is successful."
Isdell devotes the last chapter of his book to the concept of "Connected Capitalism," which he describes as "a true marriage between government, nonprofits, and global corporations to fight disease and poverty, heal the planet, improve education, and, ultimately boost private-sector profits." Yes, Isdell was a fantastic success in the business world, but it's his philanthropic commitment that is really impressed upon the reader.
Isdell may not have learned the legendary secret formula for Coca-Cola, but with Inside Coca-Cola, he has shared a plan for creating a sustainable business that nurtures the communities in which it operates, while also producing wealth for its shareholders.
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