Coca-Cola began in 1886 not as a company, but as a single drink. I doubt the man who created Coke, John Pemberton, could have imagined he’d invent something that would endure for 133 years and counting.
Coke – the drink, that is – is still around because Pemberton invented a great product. But it took much more to make Coca-Cola into a great, global company.
Today, I’m thinking back on one of the biggest moments that shaped The Coca-Cola Company we know today. It was 100 years ago this year, when Ernest Woodruff led a group of investors who bought the company and took it public.
Before Woodruff was involved, Coke was only available in six markets outside the continental United States. The company would add nearly 20 markets in the first decade after going public, quickly establishing the foundation for what would become a global business.
The Purpose of Coca-Cola
To state the obvious, a lot has changed since Coca-Cola’s initial public offering in 1919.
Back then, we only sold Pemberton’s original product. Today, we’re a total beverage company that’s present in almost every beverage category. We sell more than 500 brands and 4,300 different drinks worldwide.
More than 700,000 people in our system help deliver our brands to customers and consumers in more than 200 countries and territories every day.
While our business has changed, our purpose as a company has remained remarkably consistent. We refresh the world and make a difference with our brands, beliefs and values.
Looking ahead, the world faces myriad challenges, as does any global business. We have to ask ourselves: Is the original purpose of the company still valid? Should it evolve as the world evolves?
We believe The Coca-Cola Company’s purpose is still to refresh the world and make a difference. It’s uniquely us. It’s why we exist, and it’s needed now, more than ever.
In doing so, we’re thinking expansively. It’s about how we refresh people in both body and spirit. It’s about how we refresh the planet and limit the footprint we leave behind. It’s about how our business system refreshes the communities we serve. It’s about how we and our bottlers refresh, inspire and develop the employees who work with us.
Our Next Stage of Growth
Our vision is to craft the brands and choice of drinks that people love. We do this in ways that create a more sustainable business and better shared future – to make a difference in people’s lives, communities and our planet.
Achieving this vision also means nurturing a culture to make it possible. Culture is multi-faceted, though it’s ultimately about the right behaviors for each situation. It’s an expression of who we are.
This is hard to define in its entirety, and it’s ever-evolving. While there are many valuable aspects of our culture, two actions make the biggest difference. They are acting with a growth mindset, which means taking an expansive approach to what’s possible. It’s the essential, animating force behind building a better future.
It’s also about being clear about the conscience we follow. Our world is ever-more interconnected and transparent. Our clarity of conscience means having the compass to do the right thing. We have a long history of acting with honesty and integrity. When we’ve fallen short, we’ve made corrections.
A Moment to Celebrate
We’re pausing to celebrate our 100th anniversary because it’s a milestone. A single $40 share from 1919 would be worth more than $18 million today, for someone who had the discipline to reinvest their dividends.
Our company has steadily given back to communities, from our hometown of Atlanta to places around the world. This morning, The Coca-Cola Foundation announced a $1 million grant to Girls Who Invest. This is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in portfolio management and executive leadership in the asset management industry.
The grant will provide scholarships for about 40 women to attend programs at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Notre Dame and the UCLA Anderson School of Management. You can read more about the grant at www.girlswhoinvest.org/coca-cola-foundation
As one of the first major companies to name a woman to its board, we’re also pleased to be a founding member of the NYSE Board Advisory Council. We’re hosting an event with the council today, partnering with the group to connect diverse candidates to companies seeking new directors.
These are just the latest examples of the difference Coca-Cola makes in the world.
I’ve had the privilege of being part of this company for more than two decades. As we celebrate 100 years as a public company, I’m most excited about looking ahead. I have great confidence the purpose that guides us today means the company will be celebrating again a century from now.
James Quincey is chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company.