“Hello, Max! Give us an autograph!”
The onslaught of employees was huge, as Max Schmeling visited the Hamburg-Wandsbek branch of Coca-Cola in the summer of 1957. Many employees could hardly believe that the legendary sportsman was suddenly standing there in front of them. Unlike any other German boxer before him, Schmeling had triumphed time and again in the ring. He was the world heavyweight champion. He had written boxing history with his 1936 knockout victory over the then-undefeated Joe Louis.
From Boxing Champion to Coca-Cola
At the end of his boxing career, the exceptional athlete found himself in search of a new career. That search would lead him back to Coca-Cola.
In 1954, Schmeling had dinner with James Farley, whom he knew from his extensive time boxing in the United States. At the time, Farley was in charge of Coca-Cola’s exports and wanted to expand Coke’s concessionaire system in Germany. Schmeling answered that call and with his unparalleled reputation, he landed the job as Coca-Cola concessionaire and co-owner of the newly founded “Getränke-Industrie Hamburg Max Schmeling & Co.,” which assumed all bottling and distribution rights for Coke in Hamburg.
The Concessionaires of Coca-Cola: A Long-Standing Tradition
Concessionaires at Coke were a part of Asa G. Chandler’s vision when he founded The Coca-Cola Company in 1892. Candler employed concessionaires as independent partners with the license to manufacture and bottle Coca-Cola products, and to distribute them to area trade customers and restaurateurs. The concessionaires’ knowledge of local specifics was key to success. Concessionaires’ existing relationships and contacts within their regions enabled them to help Coca-Cola expand quickly and systematically.
Coca-Cola established Germany’s concessionaire system shortly after the opening of the Essen branch in 1940. By the 1950s, there were more than one-hundred independent Coca-Cola bottlers throughout the country including Schmeling’s.
“Sport and Coke Every Day”
To become a concessionaire, Schmeling borrowed 250,000 marks for starting capital. A new boss and a new bottler, he established himself as an approachable leader, asking his employees to speak candidly and informally around him. For Coca-Cola, it looked like the ideal partner has stepped into the ring. As the people of Hamburg would say: “Kein Klax ohne Max” (nothing without Max).
Demand for Coke was high and by 1967, the company was selling 100 million crates in Germany each year. Over the following decades, the individual bottling companies came together forming larger units until 2007 when all the concessionaires merged to form Coca-Cola Erfischungsgetränke AG. Today, Coca-Cola supplies about 400,000 trade and restaurateur customers in Germany via a broad sales and distribution network, and is the largest beverage manufacturer in Germany.
And what would Max Schmeling say to that?
Schmeling died in 2005 at the age of 99. The legend is likely to have explained the secret to his success with one of his favorite pieces of advice: “Sport and Coca-Cola every day!”
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