On August 29, 2012, Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, presented the keynote speech at the inaugural Colorado Innovation Network (COIN) Summit, a gathering of leaders of industry, nonprofit organizations, government and academia. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper created COIN in 2011 to stimulate economic growth, create jobs and attract new businesses to the state by promoting collaboration and innovation among private, public and academic organizations.
In his speech, Kent highlighted Coca-Cola’s systemwide renewed focus on innovation. “For Coca-Cola, innovation is a journey,” he says. “We don’t have all the answers or even all the questions, but we’re committed to innovation, new ways of thinking and new pathways to growth and value creation.”
To build a culture of innovation and growth, Kent says that companies need to have:
1. Continuous Investment
Leading companies and organizations invest resources, time and strategy — even in a depressed economy, says Kent. During the Great Depression, Coca-Cola chairman Robert Woodruff increased promotional spending, while other companies cut back on advertising and marketing. The result? Increased brand exposure and a stronger business. Similarly, Coca-Cola recently announced plans to invest more than $30 billion in the company’s brands and infrastructure over the next five years in pursuit of the company’s 2020 Vision — a plan to double the overall size of Coca-Cola's business over the course of this decade.
2. Global-Minded Talent
As a global company, Coca-Cola seeks out the best of the best from around the world. “We have people from Latin America working in Asia, Europeans in South America, Africans in Europe and so on,” says Kent. “At our headquarters in Atlanta, we have more than 50 different nationalities represented.”
3. Strategic Partnerships
Coca-Cola collaborates with organizations across business, government and civil society — an alignment Kent calls the "Golden Triangle” — to develop solutions to the world’s complex challenges. “Golden Triangle innovations are growing and flourishing and producing wonderful fruit all around the world,” says Kent. “The ones that work are next-level partnerships: ones focused on real results and organized with a bias for action. With those kinds of partnerships, magical things happen.”
Coca-Cola’s current partnerships with the Global Fund, the Gates Foundation and the Yale Health Leadership Institute to increase access to vital medicines in Tanzania are examples of these global partnerships, as is Coca-Cola’s collaboration with the Ball Corporation, which led to the development of a 7.5-oz., 90-calorie mini-can. Another area of collaboration is water. Together with World Wildlife Fund, USAID, the Nature Conservancy and CARE, the company has launched 286 community water projects in 94 countries since 2005.
You never know where the next innovation will come from, said Kent. “New ideas can circle the globe in an instant.” That’s why Coca-Cola boasts six Research & Development centers, the goal of which is to advance local and regional innovations. The company also has a multicultural, multiethnic, multigenerational innovation council that meets quarterly to develop promising ideas.
5. A Relentless Focus on Sustainability
I’m convinced that some of the most important business breakthroughs will come at the intersection of sustainability and innovation,” notes Kent. “That’s where I believe the action will be — and where we’re moving at Coca-Cola.” For example, Coca-Cola’s groundbreaking PlantBottle packaging, which is made partially from plant material, has cut the company’s dependence on oil by 60,000 barrels since 2009. Kent also cited Coca-Cola’s network of entrepreneur-owned Micro Distribution Centers in Africa, which employ 19,000 people and generate $600 million in annual revenue, and the company’s 5by20 initiative to enable the empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs around the globe by 2020.
One of the things I always share with Coke people is the need to remain constructively discontent,” Kent concludes. “Today, for all of us in business and government and civil society, the choice is between innovation and irrelevancy. You either innovate or you become irrelevant.”