Muhtar KentChairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Coca-Cola Company
Interview with CNBC
World Economic Forum
Davos, Switzerland
January 25, 2012

Broadcast Transcript

Geoff Cutmore, Reporter:
I'm pleased to welcome Maria to the position here on Squawk Box Europe. We've got a pretty big crew up here at the World Economic Forum. And Maria, good to see you once again joining us.

[later in segment]

Maria Bartiromo: It certainly does feel like it's campaign season. Shall we bring in Muhtar Kent? Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, joining us right now to talk more about all of these issues. Muhtar, it's good to see you.

Muhtar Kent, Chairman & CEO, The Coca-Cola Company: Good to see you.

Maria Bartiromo: First, let's talk about the Obama speech; as Geoff mentioned, this is one the topics du jour. What was your take on the speech?

Muhtar Kent: Well, I think my take on what he said is the fact that all of us in the United States, whether we're in business -- large, small, medium -- whether we're in government, whether local government, some national government -- whether we are in civil society, we all have to find a better evolving model than what we have in our hands today and we all have to crack the code for growth.

We all have to ensure that capitalism is better connected to society than it has been so far, and we all have to regenerate jobs. Just leaving jobs aside for a second in the United States, altogether -- the largest economy in the world is the United States. If it doesn't start growing again, the world will flounder.

And essentially, what we have is that in the next ten years, as short as this decade, in the world, we're going to have six-hundred-and-fifty more million people than we have today, in just a short ten years. That means that we need to create jobs for three-hundred-and-thirty million more people than we have today just to stay even with the current levels of unemployment, which are eight-and-a-half percent in the emerging world and eight percent in the developed world.

So therefore, how do we do that? How do we -- and that's essentially the piece that -- I have a great respect for our President, for the administration, and these are difficult circumstances. So we all, I think, have to rally around this notion that we have to create a better evolved market.

Maria Bartiromo: But how do you do it?

Geoff Cutmore: Can I just jump in on that point? I mean, are those jobs going to be created in America, though -- that's the issue -- or are they going to be created at the expense of Americans? Mister Obama just signaled to the multinational community that this is an anti-business President, that you should take your money now out of America because if you leave it in America, it's going to get taxed.

Maria Bartiromo: Which is what an increasing number of companies are doing.

Muhtar Kent: I think the companies should be looking at just growing their business, investing and ensuring that they can crack the calculus for growth -- that's what companies should be doing. If that means that they have to invest abroad, they'll invest abroad. If that means they have to invest in the United States, they have to invest in the United States.

Like our case, in the case of Coca-Cola, we've invested ten billion dollars in the last three years in the United States. We are growing and we're creating jobs. We're growing faster and creating jobs overseas. Just to give you an example: Ten years -- in this ten years, this decade that we're in, Coca-Cola is going to create a hundred thousand new jobs in the world -- some in the United States and some in the world. A hundred thousand new jobs -- a hundred thousand new jobs means ten thousand jobs per year.

Maria Bartiromo: And Coca-Cola is emblematic of what is happening for your multinational company today,

because you're looking around the world and saying, "Where is the growth?" And that's empowering Coca-Cola to, in fact, create jobs in America and around the world. Let me get your take right now on where we are in the global economy; a lot of debate on what's happening in Europe, the slow and sluggish growth in the United States. How would you characterize business today? Give us the global story.

Muhtar Kent: I think the consumer is a little less confused in the United States than he or she was a year ago, our take -- so, little lights coming up. There's better mobility, there's more eating out, there's a better feeling for booking travel and so forth.

Maria Bartiromo: Are you talking about the U.S.?

Muhtar Kent: I'm talking about U.S. now.

Maria Bartiromo: Okay.

Muhtar Kent: I'm talking about U.S.  So therefore, I am slightly more optimistic about the United States and where it is. And actually, this is no surprise, because we said last year that the U.S. would probably be the first to come out of this, and the converse for Europe. So, where we were last year at this time about Europe, probably a little more difficulty ahead. Consumer doesn't see any good news when he or she turns on the TV, or her laptop, or his laptop, or takes a newspaper in their hands.

Maria Bartiromo: The last time we were talking, Muhtar, you said you were investing in Africa; you said you were investing in a lot of emerging areas. For Coca-Cola, what is the most promising part of the world right now in terms of growth levels for the next three years?

Muhtar Kent: I think for Coca-Cola, if we are not able to continue to achieve balanced growth both in the emerging world as well as in western markets, in developed markets, then we will not be successful in achieving our vision for doubling our business from a hundred billion dollars revenue to two hundred billion dollars in this coming decade.

That's our vision, 2020 vision. Therefore, we've got to ensure that we continue to crack the calculus for growth in both emerging markets as well as developed markets. Now, obviously, the rates are going to be different just like we have to continue to grow in all our categories -- sparkling categories as well as distilled beverage categories.

Geoff Cutmore: Richard Edelman was up here earlier and was saying that he's never seen confidence in CEOs so low -- confidence in CEOs, confidence in governments. There has been an attempt to try and link Coca-Cola to this anti-capitalist movement; there's this Occupy Coke faction that seems to be out there. How do you perceive that from Coke headquarters, and how do you prevent them from damaging the brand and damaging your sales?

Muhtar Kent: Well, first, I think we have to respect everyone's needs and wishes to demonstrate and to say what they want so very clearly. In terms of my own perception and how I would frame it is that unless we are able to as -- again, working more closely than ever before with government and civil society as business -- unless we're able to have a framework where we deal with the issue of confidence better than we've dealt so far -- confidence -- where we deal with the issue of governance better than we've dealt with it so far, where we deal with the issue of social harmony better than we've dealt with it so far, and deal with sustainable growth -- sustainable from an environmental perspective and sustainable from the whole economic perspective.

Maria Bartiromo: Muhtar, let me -- back to the business climate right now: I just want to get your take on volume growth this year. A couple of analysts out there talking about volume growth declining from where we were a year ago. Is that what you're seeing?

Muhtar Kent: I would say that the first three quarters of this year, it may have appreciated. Right now, we can only talk about what we've announced in the first three quarters of last year in 2011. We didn't see any decline in volume. We were able to continue our momentum across the world and it's -- actually, our growth numbers were ahead of our long-term vision targets.

Maria Bartiromo: Okay.

Geoff Cutmore: Muhtar, we've got to wrap it up, I think.

Maria Bartiromo: Thank you so much for joining us, and of course, the theme of this year's Davos is "Global Transformation," and I know that we're looking at transformations across the world in different economies. Muhtar, thank you for joining us.

Muhtar Kent: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Maria Bartiromo: Muhtar Kent is the Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola.