Anticipate the future structure of your industry, Muhtar Kent advised students in a recent lecture at the School. The chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company gave a presentation as part of the Silfen Leadership Series on November 19. More than 400 students and prospective students attended the event.

“In the world you will inherit, turbulence will be the new norm,” he said. “That’s not a bad thing. For every front we face, there’s an equally powerful tailwind.”

Kent shared his views on the future of the global economy and the leadership characteristics that are necessary for success.

He voiced optimism that the United States would recover from the economic crisis “stronger and sooner than most anticipate” and said the United States has an advantage because of its heritage of innovation and entrepreneurial energy. In the future, he said, leaders need to manage the shifting balance of power and cultural influences from a uni-polar to multi-polar world. He emphasized that managers also need to have a worldview, remain flexible and be able to move easily across borders.

Kent discussed the Coke brand in the context of changing attitudes toward “Brand America” as well as the company’s corporate social responsibility policies as a multinational organization. He said that the brand has remained strong, even in parts of the world where the United States is unpopular, because of the company’s franchise system and partnership with local businesses. “It’s regarded as a local brand in many overseas locations,” he said.

Coca-Cola is invested in developing more franchise operations in BRIC countries, he said, and CSR has to be embedded into a firm’s policies. He highlighted the success of Coca-Cola’s innovation in HFC-free refrigeration and transition to water-neutral production.

“Our business is only as healthy as the community we are in,” Kent said.

Photo courtesy of The Coca-Cola Company