Today we lost one of the truly great leaders of not only The Coca-Cola Company and system, but also the broader arenas of business, philanthropy and education. Don Keough, former Coca-Cola president, chief operating officer and director, died in Atlanta with his family at his side. He was 88.

Don was an exceptional builder of organizations and people and an inspiration to all those hoping to carry the title of leader.

Speaking personally, and I know on behalf of all whose lives he touched, he was a man who challenged us, inspired us and changed us.

Don’s Coca-Cola history dates to 1950 when he joined Butter-Nut Coffee. That company was acquired by Duncan Foods, which was subsequently acquired by The Coca-Cola Company in 1960. Don retired from Coca-Cola in 1993 and returned as a director in 2004 and served until 2014 when he became an advisor to the Board.

Don’s mark will forever be on the company he loved and served. He brought a steady hand to the wheel in challenging times, unmatched operating skill that strengthened and expanded the Coca-Cola system and an expansive vision that helped make Coca-Cola a truly international brand. 

We talk today about “brand love.” Don understood those words at a deeply personal level. Our brands were something far more than products to him. They were a trust and a legacy; an asset beyond value and the key to our future.

He once told me how he had a very simple view of his job. He said, “Every day I come in, I want to polish our brand – make it shine just a little brighter, sparkle just a little bit more.” Those words come back to me every single day, wherever I am in the world.

Don was a rare combination. He had all the head knowledge and all the heart knowledge to move us forward. 

He was a man who lived for the details. He had a driving curiosity for how things worked and an unrelenting determination to make them work better. No one has ever known more about our business or our brands.

But he also knew that a business does not succeed on the excellence of the mechanics. It succeeds on people—the bonds they form, the relationships they build and the vision they share.

As a leader, he was a consummate relationship builder. That signature skill came as naturally to him as breathing. He adored people. He could relate to everyone – regardless of culture, background, walk of life or age. And within minutes, they could relate to him. He saw every encounter as a learning opportunity, which took him to 140 countries and countless lunch tables with rank-and-file Coca-Cola employees.   

He was a man who personified the ideals of being constructively discontent. He believed that occasional failure was the price of progress. What really worried him was success. He offered some quotes to live by. One of my favorites is: “Isn’t there something we should be worrying about today in order to make sure we have something else to worry about tomorrow?” Or this one: “People, companies and countries can get into trouble when they start to think they’re successful. They get arrogant.”

In 2013, he expressed his passion for learning to the first class of our Keough System Leadership Academy. “The brain is like a sponge,” he said. “If you let it get dry, you can peel it off bit by bit. That’s the way the brain is. To have output, you have to have constant stimulus and input.”

Don’s legacy will loom large and long endure not only here at The Coca-Cola Company but also at Allen & Company, where he served as chairman since 1993. He also made a lasting positive difference serving on the boards of other organizations including Coca-Cola Enterprises, Colombia Pictures, IAC/InterActiveCorp, Yankee Global Enterprises LLC, Berkshire Hathaway, McDonald’s Corporation, The Washington Post Company, H.J. Heinz Company, and The Home Depot.

In addition, Don was chairman emeritus of the Board of Trustees and a Life Trustee of the University of Notre Dame as well as a trustee of several other educational, charitable and civic organizations.

Our heartfelt condolences go out to the entire Keough family that Don loved so much.  We share their loss, and we share their pride in the legacy of one of the truly great leaders in the history of business.

We also thank Don for all he has meant to this company and all of those who had the privilege to know him during his long life of service and leadership.

The world has lost a giant of a man in Don Keough. And we at Coca-Cola have lost an extraordinary leader, mentor and friend.

Muhtar Kent is chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company.