John Murphy took over as Coca‑Cola’s chief financial officer on March 16. He’s held a host of roles in his 31 years with the company, from his early days as an auditor to leading operations in parts of Latin America to overseeing the vast Asia Pacific group. He’s a native of Ireland whose work around the world has also included a range of different responsibilities, from strategic planning to finance to operations.
We asked John for a few thoughts about the company, including his top priorities as CFO.
How has Coca‑Cola changed over time? And what’s unique about the company right now?
I think one of the reasons Coca‑Cola has been so enduring for more than 130 years is we have always been willing to embrace change in the world around us – and adapt to it. Our longtime CEO Robert Woodruff famously said, “The world belongs to the discontented.” I believe it is this mindset that has allowed us to stay relevant for such a long time.
Right now, under James Quincey’s leadership, the company and its bottling partners are embracing a new era of change. It is rooted in our Beverages for Life vision, which, simply put, has the aspiration for our system to become the most preferred option for every beverage occasion in nonalcoholic drinks. In other words, to become a total beverage company.
We’re also doing this with the goal of serving all stakeholders, not just shareowners. For example, we’re making steady progress with our World Without Waste initiative, which focuses on reducing packaging waste.
What have you learned from people inside and outside the company during your first few months as CFO?
When I talk about Beverages for Life, people understand what we mean and like where we’re going. They get the vision, and it doesn’t need a lot of explanation.
However, there’s often a “but” in these conversations. There are many questions and, at times, doubts about whether or not we can deliver. Can we expand our portfolio profitably? Are we able to be efficient and effective? Are we moving fast enough? The list is a long one! Nonetheless, I find this outside-in provocation very healthy, as it helps us focus on what really matters.
I think we’re moving in a good direction, but we’ve got a lot to do to meet the high expectations we have for ourselves and that others have for us. This will take the right people and the right culture in our organization. It’s going to require us to step up and, above all else, it requires much sharper line-of-sight up and down the organization on those things that really create value that can be sustained over time.
What are your main financial priorities?
I have five priorities. The first is that we continue to deliver strong revenue growth that, in turn, delivers margin expansion. On revenue, we need to continue what we’ve been doing over the last seven quarters – and now eight, including the second quarter of 2019 – which is to make sure our vision translates into higher, more sustained topline growth.*
Second is improving cash flow, because it’s critical to the long-term health of our business and to our ability to invest for growth. We’re taking concrete actions to optimize our working capital and our levels of capital expenditure, while at the same time reducing one-time cash outlays that have been part of recent restructuring and refranchising activities.
Third is capital allocation. We’re very clear about our priorities and how we will use our capital. One is to invest in growing our existing businesses. Another is to continue to look at bolt-on acquisitions of complementary brands and/or businesses. We’ll also continue to grow our dividend. And last, but not least, will be to get our debt back into our target range, post this year’s Costa Coffee acquisition.
My fourth priority is to continue building the talent and capabilities in our finance organization. What got us here today won’t get us where we need to be tomorrow. We need a bold agenda to become the partners and stewards our organization needs, and I am very excited with some of the work we already have underway.
Finally, my fifth priority is to be a great ambassador for the company. I have come to appreciate quickly the high expectations there are in representing The Coca‑Cola Company, both externally and internally. In every sense of the word, it is a humbling role, and the day I stop learning how to do it better will be my last day!
You’ve worked at Coca‑Cola for 31 years. How do you feel about what’s ahead?
I was struck by a meeting I had in China late last year when one of our employees told me that working for The Coca‑Cola Company there today feels like working for the oldest start-up in the world. I am not naïve enough to take this comment literally, but I find it invigorating to think that, on our good days, I work for a company that at its core feels like it’s 133 years young, not 133 years old. So, as I look ahead, I have never been so enthused about our company’s prospects, and I feel extremely privileged to be a part of the team James has put together to carry the baton forward to the next generation of leaders.