Someone who spends his entire working career in one company, a company that is one of the oldest successful companies in the world, and then writes about it. You obviously expect a lot of passion for the company, the brand, and the products. You expect some insider stories that you do not know as a consumer. Definitely, you want to know how he turned around a company that was on its way down when he took over as a management observer. You want to know how is it to live in multiple continents. Understand each of them so well that you can make your strategies accordingly as a traveler and as someone who wants to understand this world. Do you get all this in the book Inside Coca-Cola, the answer is Yes, but No.
Isdell comes out as a turnaround man for Coca-Cola company. And probably, for this reason, he was recalled post-retirement to put the company back on its path and take the stock price to the level that would make the company threat free. He opens up the market for Coke in Africa where he began his career. He takes Pepsi head-on in the Philippines where Coke’s market share was minuscule. Isdell takes Coke to Russia as the first multinational to enter the country. He consolidates bottling operations in Europe to make operations more productive. And in between handles issues in Latin America for the company.
At least from how he narrates, he moves across the world effortlessly. Accepting the challenge thrown at him and enjoying delivering them. Though not mentioned explicitly I am sure this would have worked in his favor as a choice for CEO and chairman. He knew most markets first hand and had built crucial contacts everywhere he lived. This was a job that was offered to Jack Welch of GE before Isdell. This fact makes him even bigger as he took the challenge that Welch could not. He also comes across as a people’s man as he keeps mentioning people whom he worked with, made friends with and he kept roping them in as and when and wherever he could.
He has tried to project that he took personal care of people. But that can be validated only by someone who has been at receiving end. I am sure there would be an equal number of stories the other way round as well. He worked with world leaders, both political and business, across the world. That is quite interesting to read because he did business with them and through them. Each leader had the potential to make or break his business in their regions. He mentions an interaction with Bill Clinton and that is where you see his business astuteness.
The book Inside Coca-Cola is a very carefully but at the same time a well-written memoir of an executive who began his career with a Coca-Cola bottler and went on to become its CEO and Chairman. There is no divulgence of any detail related to the company that you may not be able to otherwise find in public domain. There is no talk about the strategies. It is written chronologically like a personal memoir. Beginning with the author’s growing up days in Ireland and Zambia. And a few incidents that he thought have left an impact on him, like a black man coming to their home in Ireland and staying with them. He then talks a bit about his political involvement in South Africa. After that, it is all about his journey at Coca-Cola.
He acknowledges his wife as a constant support to him. And even asked her to write the foreword for the book. He talks affectionately about his daughter Cara throughout the book.
I have been a part of Coca-Cola for three years just before he took over as CEO. I know few people mentioned in the book. A big mistake that I found was that Indian CEO was called Sanjiv Gupta and not Sanjay Gupta as mentioned by him. I think it is a big editorial mistake. And once you discover one such mistake, you start doubting the rest of things as well. I liked the language of the book though, simple but engaging. There are enough personal anecdotes injected into the narrative that does not let the book become boring at any point in time. Personally, it took me back to the world of Coca-Cola and made me think of all those I worked with there. Especially those who had spent their careers working with Coke just like Isdell. It was a world in itself.
Read it to know the world of Coca-Cola.
Buy this book Inside Coca-Cola by Neville Isdell with David Beasley at Amazon India