Speaking at the historic Palmer House Hilton on Wednesday, Kent accepted the award on behalf of the men and women of The Coca‑Cola Company and bottling system. He thanked his Coke colleagues for “executing our vision for growth and long-term value creation” during his nine-year tenure as CEO, which ended in May 2017 with the appointment of current CEO James Quincey. Kent continues to serve as chairman of the company’s board of directors.
Kent also credited the “power of partnerships” for the health of the business, making special mention of Great Lakes Coca‑Cola Bottling, which serves the Windy City, and important, longtime Chicago-based customers McDonald’s and Walgreens.
In his acceptance remarks, Kent said Coca‑Cola is working to innovate across all parts of the business to build long-term growth momentum. While some important innovations in brands, packaging and equipment have been created internally, Kent said, many others have been developed externally, by partners.
Following his keynote, Kent was interviewed onstage by A.T. Kearney Chairman Emeritus and Partner Paul Laudicina, who also serves as chairman of the Global Business Policy Council.
In a wide-ranging discussion that included audience questions, Kent and Laudicina talked about Coca‑Cola’s expanding brand and product portfolios as well as the transformative changes that have strengthened the franchise bottling system in recent years. They also discussed Coca‑Cola’s ongoing progress in water replenishment and women’s empowerment.
McDonald’s Chairman Emeritus Andrew J. McKenna and Walgreens Boots Alliance Vice Chairman and CEO Stefano Pessina attended the luncheon along with two members of The Coca‑Cola Company’s board of directors, former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Judd Enterprises Chairman and CEO David Weinberg.
The Executives’ Club of Chicago, founded in 1911, has been honoring one business leader per year with the International Executive of the Year Award since 1995, when Microsoft founder Bill Gates was the first honoree. In 2017, the club honored Mondelez Chairman and CEO Irene Rosenfeld. Walgreens' Stefano Pessina won the award in 2016.