Remarks by Muhtar Kent

3848_image001President and Chief Executive Officer

The Coca-Cola Company

On accepting USCIB’s International Leadership Award

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Waldorf-Astoria, New York City

Thank you, Bill [Parrett, USCIB Chairman], for this incredible honor, and good evening, everyone.

It’s truly a privilege to be here tonight and in the company of so many people who have dedicated their careers to the advancement of international trade and development.

While I am humbled and honored to accept this prestigious recognition, I must be clear that this award far transcends any one individual.

Indeed, tonight’s recognition is  the result of 800,000 Coca-Cola system associates around the world who work hard to bring little moments of pleasure to billions of consumers each and every day, while creating economic opportunities for millions of people across our planet.

We think of it as a simple but noble calling — one that shares many of the same ideals as the United States Council for International Business.

For over 100 years now – ever since we first expanded beyond the borders of the United States — The Coca-Cola Company has been part of the fabric of global society.

Back then, our early leaders like Asa Candler and Robert Woodruff  didn’t use terms like “sustainability” and “social responsibility” but their motivations were the same.

The Coca-Cola philosophy was to be a positive force for economic growth, human welfare and community development in every market we served.

It was a business model based on hiring locally, manufacturing locally, distributing locally and often sourcing ingredients and other raw materials locally.

The further we embedded ourselves into the communities we served, the more we prospered … the more those markets grew … and the more trade flourished.

This one-to-one regression between community investment and the growth of our business lives on even more powerfully today.

Our philosophy and approach haven’t changed, I’m proud to say.

And we’re certainly not alone in this regard.

Promoting sustainable trade and sustainable communities has become a leading tenet for just about every business engaged in the globalization movement.

It’s certainly a bedrock value of the USCIB.

I would argue that never before has the need for international trade and investment advocacy been more important.

While I am proud of this award and this wonderful celebration tonight, I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you a couple of concerns.

Even at this historic time and place in America – and for that matter, the world – I worry that we in the global business and trade community are at-risk of losing an important battle.

The global financial crisis, coupled with the growing rhetoric from the anti-globalization movement, threaten to promote economic isolationism here in America and around the world.

There’s no question that we’re facing a significant disconnect with the greater public.

Consider this: Recent Gallup polls show that “big business” is held in high esteem by just 7 percent of the American public today.

Equally alarming is that less than 3 in 10 Americans and less than 3 in 10 Europeans believe that global trade and business ties are good for their nations.

Even in the developing markets of Asia – nations that have most benefited from trade in recent years — less than 4 in 10 people believe that globalization is a positive force at this very moment.

Clearly, we have our work cut out for us.

And clearly, none of us can reverse this course alone.

We need to think systemically and holistically to find solutions.

Business, government and civil society must come together – and partner like we’ve never partnered before – to promote the social, economic and environmental benefits of a world coming together through greater trade, investment and development.

We must work closer and more effectively with multi-lateral institutions that promote trade in a multi-polar world.

We must collectively do a better job in promoting our position and showing how international trade and investment benefit each and every person they touch.

As leaders we can and must turn around the deteriorating reputation of global trade and business.

I would like to very briefly suggest four specific areas where we can potentially partner in the future to do just that.

First, we need to make sure educational systems are aligned with the global marketplace.   Here in the U.S., of course, there is great concern that the entire education system – from primary to higher education – is not moving fast enough to align with the new realities that surround us in the global marketplace.

Second, we need to support programs and policies that address training and career development for all workers who have been displaced by international trade.

We can shout the benefits of global trade all day long, but if someone has lost a job, it will just fall on deaf ears.

Third, we must all keep in mind that in foreign affairs, corporate diplomacy is becoming as important as political diplomacy.

As you all are very aware, Anti-Americanism abroad is a significant concern. The world needs a strong Brand America.  And a strong Brand America needs not just strong political leadership but also strong business and civil society leadership oversees.

Fourth and finally, we need to better help promote climates for investment and innovation.

I remember when I graduated from university in England and first came to work for The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta 30 years ago. The mood was very similar to today.  Fuel prices were spiking.  A recession was draining our confidence.  Across America there was widespread fear that we were losing our global political and economic leadership around the world.

Many people feared that a surging Japan would cripple American industry, jobs and the U.S. economy.   Even greater numbers of people were worried about their jobs being replaced by technology.

But the system didn’t collapse, did it?

In fact, America got stronger … much stronger … and that’s because this great nation did what it has always done best – it innovated and reinvented itself.

And we can and have to learn from history. In the process of innovating and creating a technology and service-driven economy, America replaced 40 million antiquated jobs with 80 million new high-paying and high-skilled jobs between 1980 and 2000.

In those two decades, we witnessed a unique creation of new wealth and ideas – all because of innovation.  — All because of the entrepreneurial spirit and vitality of a nation that cultivates diverse cultures … and people … and points of view.

I truly believe that we can come together.  All of us as leaders from business, government and civil society can play a huge role in promoting …


job retraining

business diplomacy abroad …

…and innovation here at home.

If we do this together, there is no doubt that we can turn back the tide  of the growing anti-globalization and protectionist sentiments.

Indeed, the work of the USCIB and everyone here tonight has never been more important.

I look forward to our continued partnership in the years ahead … and I thank you again for this truly wonderful honor.

Thank you, everyone.

More on USCIB’s International Leadership Award Dinner

Website of The Coca-Cola Company

Staff Contact:   Kira Yevtukhova

Deputy Director, Marketing and Communications
Tel: 202.617.3160

Kira Yevtukhova manages USCIB’s print and online publications, including the website, e-newsletter and quarterly magazine, and serves as the organization’s digital media strategist. Prior to this role, Kira worked for over five years within USCIB’s Policy Department, focusing on climate change, environment, nutrition, health, and chemicals related policy issues. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and has an MBA from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
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