Global Quality Leadership Forum

Palm Beach, Florida
October 3, 1995

Remarks by
Roberto C. Goizueta

Thank you, Tony.

In front of each of you is an ice-cold bottle of Coca-Cola. It’s not a commemorative bottle … it’s not a collectible for you to take home. I don’t want you to keep it. Instead, I invite you to drink it, right now. Because over these next few minutes, I want us all to remember just why we are here.

There is a cooler filled with these down the hall from my office — and probably down the hall from yours. But I think sometimes we forget to stop and taste how special Coca-Cola is. We got these bottles today from the bottlers in West Palm Beach … and Nairobi … and Manila … and London. And they all have that special taste … the taste that should remind us all just why we are here.

For me, in my career, this gathering is something of a homecoming. It is my good fortune to have the greatest job in the world: leading The Coca-Cola Company. And, for me, it all started in the Quality Assurance area … as I joined the Company as a quality control chemist in Havana in 1954.

All over this world, Coca-Cola stands for a commitment to quality. You are … I am certain … the only corporate scientists and technicians in the world whose work has been endorsed by the king of pop art.

It was the great quality assurance technician Andy Warhol who said: “The President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same, and all the Cokes are good.”

“All the Cokes are good” … that’s not a bad motto for Quality Assurance.

The importance of our Quality Assurance efforts cannot be overstated. Nothing is more important. Nothing poses a greater threat to our status as the world’s best-loved soft drink than a Coca-Cola that doesn’t taste right … or comes in a dirty, scuffed package.

And that’s why you may be surprised that the subject I want to talk about today … is not Quality Assurance.

“Quality” is indeed a hallmark of the Coca-Cola system … but it has also become an overused platitude:

“Quality performance.” “Quality control.” “Total quality management.”

My concern is this: as the Coca-Cola system grows so rapidly, we must not allow quality to become a meaningless platitude in our business.

So what does “quality” really mean to us?

I believe it is nothing more … and nothing less … than our commitment to the personal qualities that have made Coca-Cola … and made us … what we are today.

What are those personal qualities we value? What is a Coca-Cola person? What do we stand for?

In my mind, we stand for four values, … call them personal qualities, if you wish …, that should be embodied in everyone who works in the Coca-Cola system.

The first one is intelligence, although not the overriding one.

By intelligence, I don’t mean test scores. If that were all it took for our business to succeed, all we would ever need would be the top graduates from Yale, M.I.T., Oxford, the Sorbonne, and the rest of the best universities around the world.

What I mean by intelligence is the wisdom to see in new ways and consider new ideas.

Peter Medawar, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, once put it this way. He said: “The human mind treats a new idea the way the body treats a strange protein: it rejects it.”

But unlike the human body, Coca-Cola people cannot afford to reject new ideas.

One example comes to mind. For years, our Company worked very hard to stay out of debt. Some of our colleagues viewed debt as an automatic sign of weakness. But we knew for a fact that we could earn returns on the borrowed money much greater than the cost of the borrowing.

So, in the early 1980s, we began to take on prudent amounts of debt to help increase our earnings.

That breakthrough was simply the product of seeing our old world in a new way.

But it is not enough just to have intelligence. Intelligence is worth little unless it is accompanied by a second personal quality … decisiveness, … born out of intellectual courage.

Recently, the head of our Greater Europe Group, Neville Isdell, got a call in the middle of the night. It was one of our Russian managers, asking for the money to buy into a bottling plant in the south Russia town of Nagutsky. He wasn’t even sure if local laws would permit it … but he knew that if he didn’t snap it up that day, someone else might.

So he did it.

We know today that was the right decision to make. In fact, later this fall we will open our first Russian canning line at the new Nagutsky Coca-Cola bottling facility, to serve the growing market there.

But that first night, there was no guarantee it would work. That’s where the intellectual courage or decisiveness came in.

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