The Big Idea
Performance and Health
In early 2004, the Coca-Cola Company was struggling. Since the death of CEO Roberto Goizueta in 1997, its fortunes had suffered a sharp decline. Over that seven-year period, Coke's total return to shareholders stood at minus 26 percent, while its great rival PepsiCo delivered a handsome 46 percent return. Two CEOs had come and gone. Both had overseen failed transformation attempts that left employees weary and cynical. A talent exodus was under way as leaders in key positions sought to join winning teams elsewhere.
At this less than auspicious moment, enter Neville Isdell. As vice chairman of Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company, then the world's second-largest bottler, he had enjoyed a long and successful career in the industry. Since retiring from that role he had been living in Barbados, doing consultancy work and heading his own investment company. However, the opportunity to lead the transformation of one of the world's iconic companies was a powerful lure, and he was soon installed in the executive suite at headquarters in Atlanta.
Isdell had a clear sense of what needed to be done. The company had to capture the full potential of the trademark Coca-Cola brand, grow other core brands in the noncarbonated soft drinks market, develop wellness platforms, and create adjacent businesses. But how could he follow these paths to growth when his predecessors had failed?
Experience told him that focusing solely on improving performance wouldn't ...