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Fortune Global Forum: Coke's Muhtar Kent on the New Rules for Business

By:  Jay Moye Jun 19, 2013
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Fortune Global Forum

From left: Lenovo Group Chairman and CEO Yuanqing Yang, Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent, JP Morgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon, and Fortune Senior Editor-at-Large Geoff Colvin.

Chengdu, China – Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent shared his thoughts on the evolving role of business in today’s consumer-driven, technology-fueled economy at the Fortune Global Forum. Here are excerpts from his remarks during the panel conversation, which also included Lenovo Group Chairman and CEO Yuanqing Yang and JP Morgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon:

…on meeting evolving consumer expectations:

The character of companies needs to get much closer to what consumers expect. Everything you do – the way you operate, your social values – needs to get closer to what is expected of you. Consumers no longer want to be talked to by companies… they actually want to have a dialogue. You used to make a quality product, get it onto the shelf and have good advertising… and create positive consumer impressions. Essentially, that was how business worked. Today you actually have to create positive consumer expressions and have consumers talk about your products in a positive manner. How you create and sustain positive consumer expressions is the key to success.

…on the value of operating locally in more than 200 countries:

Coca-Cola is a relationship company. We have 275 bottling partners around the world, including here in China. Those local partners help us really understand local conditions and consumers much better. We are a business where we produce locally, invest locally, sell locally, hire locally and pay our taxes locally. That's how we've always operated, and that's how we continue to operate. I've just come from Myanmar, where we opened two new plants. If it wasn't for our local partners there, we couldn't operate. We couldn't be the first company to receive the foreign investment permit and have two plants on the ground, and already have more than 1,000 people on our payroll.

…on innovating to stay relevant in a rapidly changing market:

Consumer tastes and needs are evolving much faster today. Consumers have much more information than ever. And we are seeing shifts in the retail landscape in terms of how consumers shop. We see shifts in mobility, consumer trends and consumption patterns everywhere around the world… where they stay, where they go to get entertained, how they want to be entertained, what they want to drink, what they want to eat. You need to continue to innovate and ensure you can stay ahead of those trends around the world, whether it be in Africa or Latin America, or here in China.

…on the definition of a 21st Century Coca-Cola leader:

Twenty years ago, we had maybe about 10 nationalities represented at our headquarters in Atlanta. Today that number is over 70 nationalities in management. I think mobility is something that's changed, too. We expect our leaders to be as comfortable in Munich as in Mumbai, and to really be able to understand different cultures, understand different languages and be comfortable everywhere they operate. We operate in 207 markets… and we see every one of those countries as potential talent export countries. We have a Coca-Cola leadership academy here in China that trains over 7,500 people every year. We employ 50,000 people directly in China, and we see China as a great market for exporting talent.

…on engaging younger consumers through social media and technology:

We recently had a vending machine in India and a vending machine in Pakistan, and had cameras where a consumer in India shared a Coke with a consumer in Pakistan. A technology, a product and a brand created that kind of buzz between two countries that really have not been able to come together as people and as governments. There's no reward where there's no risk. You've got to be able to take risks. And also to be able to talk to, and most importantly listen to, consumers and have a dialogue with them.

Click here for a full transcript.