I'd Like the World to Buy a Coke by David Greising

This article was inspired by David Greising's I'd Like the World to Buy a Coke . If you enjoy this article then consider purchasing or borrowing the book.


Lessons from Roberto Goizueta

“The quality of one’s compromises is more important than the correctness of one’s positions.” -Roberto Goizueta

Roberto Goizueta, member of an aristocratic Cuban family, learned from his grandfather’s pragmatic approach to business and eventually became chairman at Coca-Cola. While attending Belen academy in Cuba, he distinguished himself academically and demonstrated impressive leadership and communication skills. Graduating four years after Fidel Castro, who attended the same school, Goizueta would lead a revolution, though not the same type as Cuba’s future Communist leader.

In 1948, at the age of 18, Goizueta attended Cheshire Academy in the U.S. to develop his English speaking skills before college. Graduating as valedictorian, he moved on to Yale and graduated from the prestigious school in 1953. After marrying Olguita Casteleiro, Goizueta joined Cuba’s Coca-Cola operation in 1954, choosing an independent career path rather than continuing to work for his father.

Embodying the American success story, Goizueta climbed Coca-Cola’s corporate ladder. Having communicated with Coke’s political experts, Goizueta foresaw Castro’s nationalization of Cuba’s Coca-Cola holdings. After completing one of the company’s vital projects, he left the country on “vacation” in Miami with his family only a few days before Castro seizure Coke’s plants.

Appointed assistant to Coca-Cola’s senior vice president for Latin America, Goizueta caught the attention Coke’s president Paul Austin. Moving to Atlanta in 1964, the highly recommended employee brought a unique perspective to the company. Receiving a promotion, Goizueta, aged 35, becomes the company’s youngest vice president.

By 1974, one Coke’s most important executives suffered a heart attack abroad. The written formula for Coke was kept in a bank vault, and only two people knew the “secret formula” itself. This formula is passed along by word of mouth, so Goizueta is quickly told the formula and inducted into a very limited group of individuals at Coca-Cola.

In 1980, Paul Austin, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, had to be replaced. With calculated political maneuvering, Goizueta became Coke’s President and immediately launched the “Spanish Inquisition,” dealing with poor standards at the executive level and establishing a greater deal of accountability at Coke.

By 1981, Goizueta was Coke’s chairman. Developing a program to invest Coke’s bottlers, the new chairman started a new era at Coca-Cola. Buying Columbia Pictures, releasing Diet Coke and selling Coca-Cola’s wine business, Goizueta revitalized his company. The year 1985 was a troubling time for Goizueta, as his move to release New Coke doesn’t fare as well as other innovations. Devotees to the traditional Coke formula were outraged, and the chairman quickly recalled the product and reintroduced Coke Classic.

Spinning off Coca-Cola Enterprises, Goizueta removed $3 billion in debt from Coke’s balance sheet in the company’s centennial year, despite Wall Street analysts’ predictions. By 1988, Warren Buffet had a 7.7% stake in Coke. Praising Goizueta’s management practices, Buffet went on to join the company’s board.

In 1997, Goizueta died of lung cancer. Starting out as a Coke outsider, this exemplary leader quickly rose through the ranks an helped Coca-Cola reach its full potential.

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