Keynote Address with Muhtar Kent

Muhtar Kent joined Business Today for our second keynote address, and to share his immense and impressive experience with Coca-Cola with some of business' most promising future leaders. Kent is chairman and Chief Executive of the Coca-Cola company, known worldwide for its high quality beverage products. He took this role in 2009, and previously he was President and Chief Executive Officer, and before that President and Chief Operating Officer. With experience in worldwide business, and the ever growing pervasion of technology into his industry, Kent had much to offer and his speech provided insight into the company and what drives such an impressive man.

Born in Forest Hills, New York, Kent begun working with Coca-Cola in 1978—"before the internet, before cell phones" he notes. In just 47 years, Kent has risen from working on trucks in Atlanta to being the head of one of the most recognizable companies on the face of the planet. The company, comprised of both the beverage brands and the bottlers and distributers that supply them to the consumer, has to be immensely consumer focused and necessarily must be in advance of any market growth or change in consumer demands. In fact, according to Kent, "Coca-Cola company is focused on marketing, focused on brand building, and we use increasingly more technology as we aim for that goal. By 2025, we'll have over a trillion devices on the planet connected to one another. These changes are empowering the consumer like never before." And indeed, Kent's speech emphasized the importance that both technology and the consumer clearly have for the Coca-Cola company.

One of the first points that Kent made was—in his mind—one of the key sets of values that defines him as a leader and drives Coca-Cola as a company as well. His "three w's," women, water and welfare, comprise some of the most fundamental values of the Coca-Cola company and the Coca-Cola brand worldwide. A self proclaimed feminist, Kent noted just how important women are to Coke's growth and success in recent years. With over 30 percent of leadership roles, a number constantly growing, filled by women, the company has a strong and ever increasing emphasis on the importance of women in business. Echoing some of the most important lessons of BT's recent Women in Business conference, Kent emphasized time after time just how fundamental women are to driving the business of Coke, worldwide. In fact, Kent himself noted a program, run by Coca-Cola, that empowers women worldwide with microcredit programs and allows them to build their own business, which has been immensely successful. To Kent, “diversity, all kinds of diversity, of cultures, of races, of religions, of gender is one of the most powerful things in the world. When you fuse those things together you always get a better outcome.” Following, Kent noted how important water can be—not just to a beverage corporation, but to all companies worldwide. Likewise, Coca-Cola takes the welfare of all citizens worldwide very seriously. “We live in a dichotomous world in which there is over nutrition and malnutrition across the world to a frightening degree. These are problems that we’re focused on.” And his point is very true. Though this year's theme is Technology and Innovation in business, last year's theme, Morality and Ethics in business, has come up in nearly every keynote speech, speaking to it's importance in business today.

Following, Kent spoke to the importance of the Coca-Cola brand and the role that technology plays in managing that effort. Though legally the Coca-Cola company owns the brand, Kent notes that how people interpret and understand the brand around the world is largely out of their control. With that in mind, he described the many different ways that Coca-Cola has integrated technological advances into managing the Coca-Cola brand and its impact around the world. One of the most recent additions to the Coca-Cola brand is the Coca-Cola Hub, which fuels Coke's marketing around the world. Heavily influenced by technology, The Hub tracks, analyzes, and promotes the company's brand name and social media strategy. Regarding Coca-Cola's strategy in combating some of the world's biggest ills, all of the activity is done "through the hub. When an issue becomes large enough or relevant enough, we do what we can to help. Though companies aren’t everything in the lives of a consumer, but a brand with as large of a reach as coca-cola has the unique ability to change the lives of people around the world immensely."