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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 01/28/2012

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent on young people, unemployment and ‘cracking the code for growth’

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Muhtar Kent had five minutes.

The Chairman and CEO of one of the most recognizable brands in the world, Coca-Cola, stood in a bay window at the Belvedere in Davos on Friday to discuss the unemployment crisis, the innovation he had his eye on, and what to expect from his company in the coming year.


Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent takes a drink of a Coca-Cola Zero during an address to investors in 2009. (John Amis - AP)

Kent met with the World Economic Forum’s newest group, the Global Shapers, Friday morning in an off-the-record discussion in Davos. But on the record he wasn’t shy when it came to talking about his involvement in the group, of which Coca-Cola is among the founding sponsors.

Kent was first inspired to help create a new echelon in the World Economic Forum ranks when he met young attendees at the Forum’s gathering in Amman, Jordan.

“They were all so excited with the prospects for a better future,” said Kent of the young people he met there. That first impression resulted in a conversation with World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab. That conversation planted the seed of an idea to formally bring a younger generation into the Forum’s ranks.

 And Kent doesn’t expect Coke to be alone when it comes to bolstering youth involvement in the Forum.

“I’m looking forward to having this involvement, this journey of the Coca-Cola system worldwide,” said Kent. “As a result, everybody will learn, everybody will benefit, it will be a great win-win.”

But the real win that younger people are looking for has to do with jobs. While the economy, at least in the U.S., appears to be experiencing a recovery. Many young people remain frustrated by the lack of opportunities both nationally and internationally.

”The key to solving the employment issues,” said Kent, “and, better still, the key to cracking the code for growth — because growth will bring employment to the world — will be generating new models,  new models about business opportunities. And those new models will entail, no doubt, a closer collaboration between business, government and civil society to address the problems of the world -- to solve the problems of the world, to leverage the opportunities.”

Kent kept his cards close to his chest, however, when the conversation turned to innovation, specifically the future innovations he had his eye on. “There’s not just one innovation,” said Kent, “we innovate across our entire supply chain every day in the way we think about advertising, in the way we think about communicating with our consumers.”

“The day today is no longer a day where we create consumer impressions,” said Kent, “the day today is one where we need to, every single day, create new consumer expressions – positive expressions, instead of impressions.”

“What that means is networking. What that means is every day – if we’re successful – there will be positive consumer expressions – [in other words] consumers are going to talk about our brands in the way we want them to talk about our brands. Because we’re every day learning from our consumers, and that’s really the single biggest innovation for us.”

It’s worth noting that the Forum has been serving both Coca-Cola and Pepsi products.

And, when it came to the company’s future plans, there was little to tell, as per the Coca-Cola tradition: “We generally are very reticent about forward-looking discussions,” said Kent, “especially when we’re in a quiet period like we are now.”

It will be interesting to see how and where Kent’s enthusiasm for the next generation and his current business model intersect in coming years.

Kolawole is a Global Shaper attending the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. She is the editor of Ideas@Innovations and On Giving.

More from Davos: A place at the table for young people

Basulto: Innovation for the 99 percent

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 01/28/2012

Tags:  Davos, Coca-Cola, World Economic Forum

 
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