The highs and lows of America’s favorite soda from an upper-level executive.
Isdell offers a straightforward, prosaic hybrid of history and histrionics in describing his time at the soft-drink giant. The author retraces his youth, when he and his family moved from Northern Ireland (where Coke was considered “exotic”) to Africa, where his tall stature served him well on and off the rugby field. After college, business aspirations replaced social-work training, and Isdell began driving delivery trucks at a Coca-Cola bottling depot in Zambia for a yearly salary of just over $1,000. The author climbed the corporate ladder and familiarized himself with the adversarial politics between bottling facilities and the company. This strategy paid off with a succession of managerial positions in Johannesburg as racial strife in Africa’s economic hub enlightened Isdell on the woes of civil unrest and afforded him time to tailor his own business acumen, including honing a knack for resolving “human conflicts.” Employing a flat, workmanlike tone, the author recaps the locales of his successful upper-management career spent boosting profits in slacking “turnaround markets” in Australia, central Europe and India, then strategizing the perpetual rivalry with Pepsi in the Philippines. He also fair-mindedly details Coke’s darker days: the 1997 death of esteemed leader Roberto Goizueta and the company’s 2004 scrutiny by the SEC for exaggerated sales figures and the suspected terrorization of Colombian union workers. Remaining a dedicated brand loyalist, Isdell writes of being plucked from his retirement in Barbados after 30 years at Coca-Cola and thrust back into the fray as chairman and CEO. Seemingly indefatigable, the author promised to restore the company to its former glory during his five-year tenure. A final chapter finds Isdell applying his experiences to the tenets of contemporary global industries, passionately reiterating the need for increased “corporate social responsibility.”
A disappointingly bland memoir lacking the effervescence that put Coke on the map.