The Real Thing: Truth and Power at The Coca-Cola Company
Author: Hays, Constance L.
Description: 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.