CHICAGO – Coca-Cola Chairman Muhtar Kent was honored with a lifetime achievement award today at the Beverage Forum’s 25th anniversary conference.

Kent, who served as chairman and CEO of the company from 2009 until 2017, accepted the award on behalf of the 700,000 Coca-Cola system employees worldwide, crediting his colleagues for the successes of his CEO tenure.

In 1978, Kent responded to a classified ad for a management trainee position at Coca-Cola. He spent his first nine months on route trucks.

“I learned so much about how our business works at the point of impact – where the product and the dollar change hands,” Kent told an audience of beverage industry leaders. “And that was the start of a love affair with getting out into the market and visiting customers that continues to this day.”

Over the course of his four-decade Coca-Cola career, Kent held a variety of marketing and operations leadership positions as he climbed to the company’s highest office.

During his brief acceptance remarks, Kent thanked Coke’s partners and “honorable competitors.” Healthy competition, he said, helps keep the beverage industry strong and vibrant. He also paid special tribute to his late friend and mentor Don Keough, a longtime Coca-Cola leader.

“Don got up every morning with the goal of polishing our brands,” Kent said. “Making them shine a little brighter. A little bolder. A little more attractive. In my own way, I’ve tried to do the exact same thing.”

Muhtar Kent
Muhtar Kent with Steve Pintarelli (left) publisher., Beverage Marketing, and Michael Bellas, chairman and CEO, Beverage Marketing Corporation. 

Kent closed his acceptance with an optimistic outlook for the beverage industry, citing a growing global middle class and other positive indicators.

“The demand for delicious beverages is growing,” Kent said. “People are always going to want and need what we sell: Simple, affordable moments of refreshment and togetherness. Which is great news for everyone in this room.”

After accepting the award, Kent was interviewed by Michael Bellas of Beverage Marketing Corporation. In a wide-ranging discussion, he talked about some of his career highlights and shared his enthusiasm for the bright future of the Coca-Cola business under the leadership of President and CEO James Quincey.

“I think the best days of The Coca-Cola Company and system are ahead,” Kent concluded.