BURLINGTON, VERMONT – Coca-Cola Chairman Muhtar Kent shared his views on sustainable innovation and business transformation in a keynote speech to the International Academy of Management (IAM) Global Forum at the University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business.

“Sustainable innovation actually enables business transformation,” Kent said on Oct. 10. “Because you can’t change, you can’t improve, you can’t transform a business without a culture of continuous and sustainable innovation.”

The IAM honored Kent with an award for Transformational Leadership, noting his contributions to sustainable innovation in the areas of conserving water and creating opportunities for women entrepreneurs. Kent was also named a Lifetime Fellow of the IAM.

Kent was the second Coca-Cola leader so honored by the IAM. The late Don Keough, a longtime friend and mentor to Kent, received the same award several years ago for his contributions to the art and science of global management. Keough was president and chief operating officer of The Coca-Cola Company from 1981 until 1993. He later returned to serve on the company’s board of directors. Keough passed away in 2015.

In his keynote, Kent described how The Coca-Cola Company is pursuing sustainable innovation across all aspects of the business, with internal teams and external partners working together to build an innovation culture and create incremental value.

Using the example of Coke’s rapidly expanding product portfolio, Kent explained that some new beverages are developed internally, others are developed externally, while still others enter the Coca-Cola system through joint ventures, minority investments and other approaches.

Muhtar Kent discusses innovation, accepts business award

He also talked about some of the hallmarks of transformative leaders. Drawing on lessons from his 40-year career, Kent said the future’s most successful business leaders will be master relationship builders who are comfortable working internationally. Such leaders, he said, will also share a strong respect for cash and an abiding curiosity about the wider world.

Kent also stressed the importance of optimism in leaders.

“Tomorrow will belong not to the cynics but to the optimists,” he said. “After all, if we’re going to get up every day to improve our businesses and make the world a better place, we need to believe positive change is not only possible but likely.”

Following his keynote, Kent was joined onstage by A.T. Kearney Chairman Emeritus Paul Laudicina. The two leaders continued the program with a wide-ranging conversation on sustainable innovation, business transformation and other related themes.

Founded in Prague in 1924, the International Academy of Management is the world’s oldest management association. Today, the organization invites global thought and business leaders to exchange ideas and work together to accelerate innovation and address global challenges.