Events Innovation and Growth at Coca-Cola

Time: Wednesday, November 28, 2018, 13:00 – 14:00
Location: Room 401, Shun De Building, School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University
Speaker: James Quincey, President and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company

As the head of one of the top five most valuable brands globally, Mr. Quincey was able to share wisdom from a company that has consistently innovated, reinvented itself and disrupted the market over its 132-year history. Mr. Quincey shared how the company still follows the philosophy of one of its early Presidents, Robert Woodruff: “The future belongs to the discontented”. Throughout the decades, Coca-Cola has sought to cultivate a culture of curiosity and reinvention to remain relevant in a changing market, whilst retaining the consistency of their eponymous core product.

Coca-Cola’s focus on innovation has seen them act as a trailblazer in communication with consumers. This was their use of coupons in the 19th century, followed by paper advertising, vast billboards, TV advertisements, and now a strong social media presence. However, as Mr. Quincey discussed, effective marketing is just one facet contributing to the company’s success. Having a world-class product, which draws on the most up to date technology is, of course, essential to their long-term success and ensuring that their product base develops with changing consumer demands is the key. Coca-Cola places a focus on localised product development to fit with consumer tastes in each of their markets. This includes their largest R&D centre in Shanghai, reflecting the fact that China is their largest market and at the forefront of the digital revolution.

As a truly multi-national company that touches the lives of billions of people, Mr. Quincey spoke of Coca-Cola’s social responsibility and sustainability policy. At its core, Coca-Cola aims to not only provide a refreshing range of products but also to inspire happiness, optimism and create value not just for themselves but for everyone in the supply chain, from producers of their raw ingredients to the consumer. This pivotal value means different things in different markets, and Mr. Quincey shared a personal experience of his time as a manager in Argentina during the financial crash of the late 1990s.  In this scenario, success for the business and value to consumers meant acknowledging and acting on the change in the relative pricing of labour and capital. Coca-Cola embraced labour intensive recyclable glass bottles resulting in a cost-efficient product for the company, and affordable product for the consumer.

Mr. Quincey also responded to questions about the fundamental challenges of keeping such a large company flexible in a fast changing world and across such diverse markets. Being aware of the two problems of becoming increasingly inward looking with company size and having a natural aversion to disrupting the status quo are very important. Mr. Quincey was clear that having the right people in leadership positions who are comfortable in applying the necessary pressure to drive change is critical. At Coca-Cola, they aim to combine an effective leadership team with a culture that supports curiosity, empowerment for local markets, inclusivity of people and products, and speed. In other words, the focus is not on creating a perfect initial product or communication strategy, but enabling a culture which allows iterative development, tailored to local needs.

By Holly Holdsworth