10 Things You Didn’t Know about Coca Cola CEO James Quincey

Being the CEO of one of the world’s largest multinational corporations with a corresponding global brand means taking on tremendous responsibilities. A list of resume qualifications is not enough to steer the ship in the right direction. James Quincey has a number of other qualities, many unknown to the general public, that make him the best choice for the position.

1. His favorite Coca Cola drink is Diet Coke.

With the focus shifting to healthy beverages, one might think that the CEO of a major beverage manufacturer would steer towards political correctness and admit to something else. But Quincey is either being very honest or knows that the company is built on its historic brand name products. Without the Coca Cola drink, what would Coca Cola stand for in the eyes of consumers?

2. He was born in London.

His early life took him between England and New England here in the United States. He spent three years in Hanover, New Hampshire but also went to school in England, earning a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Liverpool. If you are wondering how an electrical engineer became involved in the food and beverage industry, he says that when going to school the only thing he found he was good at was science. Yet during those formative years he saw that the future of the world would be heavily invested in electronics. So he connected the two ideas that made sense to him.

3. There is a family connection to the food industry – sort of.

As it turns out, his father was a lecturer at Dartmouth University. This field of expertise was biochemistry, a science that would have as much impact on the global business world as technology. Later, Quincey would find out he was a natural at business, and the combination of these three influences would be the beginning from which he would rise to the CEO position of Coca Cola.

4. His initial instincts about his engineering major ended up failing him.

It’s not that Quincey was not good at being an engineer. It was that he discovered there were people significantly better at it than he was. This is the kind of test of character that often defines people. He could have stayed in his field and been a middlin’ engineer or he could have recognized that there simply people in the world who are much better at engineering than he was and choose a different direction. He chose the latter, and it definitely worked out for him in the long run.

5. He learned an important difference between consulting and corporate life early on.

He was working as a consultant for a U.K. company to Coca Cola and was later offered a position with Coca Cola. The dilemma was whether to continue consulting or make a commitment to a corporate environment. He learned that the difference was in the decision making. As a consultant you give advice, and if that advice works you are seen as a valuable business asset. In a corporate environment you have to make the final decision, not just give advice, and you have to live with the consequences of those decisions for the rest of your corporate life. He went with taking on the more challenging task of dealing with potential failure.

6. His family is included as part of his approach to business.

With a wife and two children, both in their teens, his family has become a part of that aforementioned decision to go corporate. There are very few happy executives with unhappy families, Quincey maintains. His work would take him to a number of Latin American countries, and his family would be there with him. He found the experience both professionally and personally satisfying. As for the family, who wouldn’t want to travel the world while calling the city you are living in “home?”

7. He has a very simple leadership philosophy.

“A leader has to lead.” It may sound simple but it can be one of the most challenging experiences since the longer you are at a company, the more your leadership skills will be tested and analyzed. Doubts about the course of action or a single decision, regardless if they are based on perception or reality, need to be met head on. This issue of decision making was something Quincey dealt with before coming onboard with Coca Cola, and ended up defining his corporate leadership style.

8. He stands up for his employees.

As CEO, this would include everyone who works at Coca Cola. His approach is, when problems crop up in the company, regardless of their source, you stand up for them and spell things out clearly. This is what is true, what is not, and then make a decision that directs everyone in a clear direction. Maybe not every employee will agree with him, but it is always good to know where your boss stands on something.

9. There are things he admits he doesn’t know about the company.

Another key characteristic about a leader is that they know what they don’t know. Quincey is realistic enough to know that what he doesn’t know can affect the decision making process, and owns up to not knowing everything. It makes him more approachable and open to new ideas and suggestions to make the company more successful.

10. He believes in empowerment at all levels of the corporation.

Whether it is a new employee or an experienced executive, the ultimate goal is to help people do better. A company as large as Coca Cola needs to be listening to all levels of people to get results that are positive for everyone. The product is important, but without the collaboration at all levels, the number of bottles of Coke sold will not help the company be successful in the long term.


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