Coca-Cola has become such a ubiquitous American symbol such that it's often hard to distinguish where mere substance ends (its formula is a secret as closely held as military stealth technology) and its seductively overwhelming marketing begins. But in the 1980s and '90s, Coke's new corporate management evolved it from a reliable, if sometimes stodgy, icon of American industry into one of the hottest stocks in a notoriously overheated bull market. That explosive corporate evolution is the focus of veteran NY Times
beverage industry reporter Constance Hays' cautionary business history. Eschewing strict chronology in favor of skillfully weaving in appropriate pieces of the company's complex legacy and unique coporate culture to underscore their impact on the contemporary story at hand, Hays carefully dissects a company billed in boom years as a virtual perpetual profit machine of boundless potential. Coke's growth was largely the product of Roberto Goizueta, the methodical, Cuban-born chemist who'd risen through the company's ranks and outflanked fellow veteran executive/personable "super salesman" Don Keough to become its CEO. Goizueta may have been able to rise above the hubris-fueled "New Coke" reformulation fiasco of the mid-80s, but his penchant for ruthless market expansion, corporate rejiggering and tight control of the company's operating details and financial numbers would also sow the seeds for the inevitable collapse that halved Coke's value. That implosion quickly took down successor CEO Doug Forrester--ironically the original financial architect of much of the company's remarkable boom. While this is largely a business history and not a cultural one, it's filled with a wealth of telling human details: corporate pressures exerted on family-owned Coke bottlers to sell out; an obscure academic/stock analyst whose curiosity helped unravel the company's financial secrets; Machiavellian corporate politics where one era's loser becomes another's cautious victor. --Jerry McCulley
From Publishers Weekly
Hays, who spent three years covering the food and beverage industry for the New York Times, focuses on the recent efforts by Coca-Cola not just to win the cola wars but to become the most dominant beverage of all. Early chapters effectively segue back and forth between Coke's modern global strategy and the company's first century of increasing dominance. Founder Asa Candler envisioned Coke as a fountain drink, and thought so little of other sales methods he gave two men bottling rights to nearly all of America in 1899, resulting in a patchwork of plants where the sodas was made and distributed. Hays deftly shows how these local bottlers were crucial in establishing Coke's public image, yet often possessed an independent streak that rankled the company's corporate leaders, who eventually sought to regain control over much of the operations, with mixed results. She clearly admires the ambition and dedication of executives like Roberto Goizeuta and Doug Ivester, allowing much of the story to unfold from their perspective, but doesn't flinch from chronicling missteps like the attempt to beat the Pepsi Challenge with New Coke. And even though the final chapters depict the shattering of the Coke myth and the onset of financial woes, it's sometimes difficult to tell whether Hays is simply reporting on the new management's belief in its ability to bounce back or buying into their vision. Readers won't uncover the secrets of Coca-Cola the drink, but they'll learn a lot about what lies behind Coca-Cola the world's most powerful brand.
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