Palm Beach, Florida
October 3, 1995
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.
The third value that follows from intelligence and intellectual courage is loyalty.
By that, I do not mean absolute loyalty to The Coca-Cola Company. I mean loyalty to your beliefs … loyalty to your own unwavering sense of self-respect.
It’s what Shakespeare said in Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.”
Remember what you are.
You are scientists. You are Quality Assurance professionals. You must be open to reason. You must be guided by logic. You must be driven by curiosity.
But remember also who you are. You are central to the conscience of the Coca-Cola system … you are the people ultimately accountable for the quality of our products. You can never give in to those who complain about the high cost of quality … or the time that it takes to achieve perfection.
You can never give in to those who pressure you to lower your standards to make their jobs easier … those who would have business ramifications interfere with your scientific or technical convictions.
At the end of the day, you have to be true to yourself. You have to be loyal to your own expertise … and your own demanding code of honor.
And that is where the fourth value comes in. It is no surprise. It is integrity. The overriding personal quality that is demanded of every Coca-Cola man or woman.
I believe that if working in the Coca-Cola system means anything, it means doing what is right. Not necessarily what is correct — no one is correct all the time. But doing what is right. Acting with credibility … maintaining the trust of others … all the way from the regulatory authorities to our consumers, customers, partners, the news media and the public at large.
Lack of integrity renders worthless all other values. Without integrity no other personal quality has much value … because integrity overrides everything else.
In fact, I would say that a person with a great deal more intelligence than integrity is a walking accident waiting to happen. Just think, … all the scams in the U.S. securities industry that you have read about were engineered by some brilliant Wall Street types who have little or no integrity. All these scandals were produced by men whose intelligence runs well ahead of their integrity.
One of the main functions of my job as CEO is deciding what to delegate, and to whom. But the ultimate integrity of The Coca-Cola Company is one item that neither I … nor anyone in the Coca-Cola system … can delegate.
I will cite one more example. In the late 1960s, working with Monsanto, we were ready to roll out a wondrous new package, the acrylo-nitrile bottle. It had the promise of being the first great plastic bottle for the soft drink industry.
But our scientists discovered that this material, when exposed to an acidic liquid, could shed a trace amount in parts per billion of a possible carcinogen.
Our people could have discounted the research and moved ahead, blaming Monsanto if anything went wrong.
But they didn’t. Our people went to Monsanto … and they went to the FDA … and they stopped the project. Period.
In the short term that decision cost us money. It cost us time. And it cost us a promising package. But it was the right thing to do.
And it serves to illustrate that these personal qualities we value …
intellectual courage …
do not exist in a vacuum. They are not merely the topic for conference discussions.
These values … are the very essence of our personal working lives. And they must be present in our every working minute, every day.
Our Company’s long-time legal counsel, Pope Brock, said something our lawyers used to carry in their wallets. He said:
“It shall never be the policy of The Coca-Cola Company, in the conduct of its business and the marketing of its products, to approach the bounds of legality as closely as human ingenuity can devise.”
In other words, we will never attempt to see how close we can come to breaking the law and getting away with it.
In just the same way, we will never attempt to see how close we can come to breaking the bounds of integrity.
Nothing … nothing … is more important than the integrity of Coca-Cola. That integrity is expressed by the people of Coca-Cola, and the way we live our lives.
Because there is no such thing as an ethical company. Companies do not have ethics. People have ethics. Companies do not have integrity. People have integrity.
And it is the actions of tens of thousands of intelligent people … people of integrity and strength … that have built the Coca-Cola system.
By their efforts, our consumers know our products are safe. Our customers know we will not take advantage of them. Our suppliers and partners know we deal with complete trustworthiness.
The world knows what Coca-Cola stands for … because of the consistent, disciplined values thousands of our colleagues have displayed over 109 years.
But it only takes the actions of one individual to bring Coca-Cola irreparable harm.
All of us in this room are blessed to work in what is — measurably — the greatest business system in history.
No business system serves so many people every day. No product is so truly global. No trademark is so deeply and widely admired.
We must never forget how fortunate we are to be entrusted with that business … that product … that trademark.
And we must never forget that our leadership carries a heavy burden. Those who are always first … live in the white light of scrutiny, and become targets for the envious and the jealous. We must live our lives with intelligence and intellectual courage and loyalty and integrity, knowing that … for us … the stakes are always higher.
That is what “quality” means to a Coca-Cola person. You — our quality assurance missionaries — serve at the very heart of what it means to be a Coca-Cola person.
Quality isn’t just something we taste … or see … or measure … or manage … or index. Quality shows itself in our every action.
Quality … resides in our souls.