Roberto C. Goizueta: The Real Business of Atlanta and Beyond
"As I travel around the world, I witness more and more people now increasingly turning to private enterprise for the jobs, services and products that will raise their standard of living, while looking to government to play just a supporting role."
I am delighted to be with you today. The Commerce Club has played a very important role in bringing the Atlanta business community together through the years and I am proud to be a member of your board as well as your speaker today.
This is a pleasant opportunity for me. Because of the global nature of our company, I usually find myself addressing more audiences outside the United States than here at home. So, today, it simply feels great to be among neighbors.
I have found it very interesting, though, that when I travel internationally there is one common subject people want to talk to me about. They are always very curious, in general, about the role of business in our society and, more specifically, about the relationship between business and government. As you can imagine, they are especially curious in those countries that have only very recently opened their doors to free-market economics.
And what do I tell them? I tell them what I believe in my heart to be true.
I tell them that the only stable combination of economic and political systems is that provided by capitalism coupled with democracy. Experience tells us that democracy-without-capitalism can survive for a short while and that capitalism without-democracy can endure far longer. But a society can achieve true stability only when the capitalistic economic system and the democratic system of government join hands.
What happens when those hands come together?
That depends on how well government and business have defined their roles. If they both understand that the role of business is to drive economic growth—and if they both understand that the role of government is to create the proper environment for business to do its job—then their society has its best chance to flourish.
So, it puzzles me whenever I hear groups in this country eager for our government to "fix" our economy, or even protect our jobs when much of the rest of the world is thrilled to have government finally playing its appropriate role. Just ask the people of the former socialist world how much they enjoyed having governments "fix" their economies for them and assure them of their jobs. Those people have learned from bitter first-hand experience that the more intrusive the government is, the worse it is.
As I travel around the world, I witness more and more people now increasingly turning to private enterprise for the jobs, services, and products that will raise their standard of living, while looking to government to play just a supporting role.
That may sound basic to you but remember that most of the people on this planet did not grow up having our first-hand experience with democracy and capitalism. This concept they are now embracing is novel to them. In fact, many of them were taught for years that both of those systems were downright evil. We, on the other hand, were taught to value freedom and to value the opportunity to make the most of our talent and determination.
And yes, we value it. But are we making the most of it?
That's why this is such a special opportunity for me. Originally I had planned to talk with you specifically about Atlanta and its place in the global marketplace. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to talk about our city on a broader scale. Somehow, a discussion of just one aspect—that of Atlanta as an international city—seems too narrow at this pivotal point in our history. Because, like it or not, we in this room are facing a wide range of issues that will do much to determine the future of our city.
"The real business of Atlanta is to create a dignified quality of life for all our citizens."
I say that simply to point out reality.
I am not a politician... sociologist... urban planner... or, much less, a fortune teller.
I am a businessman. And I have been a citizen of Atlanta since 1964. And I speak from that perspective only.
As you might guess, my perspective is very straightforward. At The Coca-Cola Company, every major advance we have made in recent years has come from our answer to one question. It has come from our ability to step back from our daily tasks and ask ourselves:
"What is the real business of The Coca-Cola Company?"
We ask that question often, and the answer always comes out the same. We exist to create value over the long term for our shareowners.
But that answer prompts another question:
"Just how do we do that?"
How do we create value over the long term for our shareowners? Well, in the forties, we did it by putting Coke "within arm's reach of desire." And in the eighties, we did it by exiting low return businesses and then entering a high growth business like filmed entertainment. We did it by extending the Coca-Cola trademark into the low-calorie segment of the soft drink industry with Diet Coke. We did it by reshaping our bottling network, first in this country and more recently in international markets. And, yes, we did it by introducing "new" Coke and then—bowing to popular demand—quickly bringing back the original formula as Coca-Cola Classic.
Today we are doing it, as stated on the cover of our just-published Annual Report, by "refreshing 5.6 billion people." This simple statement tells you how we are now going about doing the real business of The Coca-Cola Company.
Without that precisely focused sense of purpose—that sense of knowing exactly who we are and exactly why we exist—we would not have achieved the growth we have in recent years. In fact, most likely, we would have found ourselves in deep, deep trouble.
"How" we go about doing the business of The Coca-Cola Company may change as conditions change, but the answer to "what" is the real business of The Coca-Cola Company remains a constant.
So, as we talk about our city, and as I look around the room and see the faces of many men and women who are critical to Atlanta, I naturally feel compelled to raise a question similar to the one we often raise at The Coca-Cola Company.
Specifically, "What is the real business of Atlanta?"
From talking with various friends across the city, I know many of you have this same question on your minds. Some of you might even say that a collective feeling of uncertainty seems to hang over our city right now.
The reason is obvious. We are uneasy because the entire world is going to be showing up at our doorstep in just two short years. Lillehammer is history. Atlanta is next and we see everything in that context.
Think about it. We see every single issue in an entirely new light. You cannot pave or repave a road, start a business, buy a house, or even plan a vacation without taking the '96 Games into consideration.
Since the morning we heard Juan Antonio Samaranch say the words, "The city of... Atlanta," virtually every person in our city has rendered his or her opinion on the Olympics.
The optimists say the Olympics will take us to a profoundly higher level of existence... simply by taking place. The pessimists say the Games will be a social and financial burden that could do irreparable damage to our city and embarrass us in front of the world. But we must see the Games for what they are. The Olympic Games will come, blaze brilliantly over our skyline, and then pass on.
But the people of our city will be here forever, and we must never let short-term aspirations undermine our long-term responsibilities.
We know we want to give the world 14 days of sheer brilliance. And we will. But, even more than that, we want to give our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren the high quality of life they deserve. And we must.
And so we find ourselves asking many questions:
"Will we be ready on time?"
"Will we embarrass ourselves?" "
Are we using this opportunity of the Centennial Games to its fullest advantage?"
Those are natural questions, but, in my opinion, they cannot be answered until we first answer the fundamental question, which is, I repeat, "What is the real business of Atlanta?"
To my mind, the answer is this: The real business of Atlanta is to create a dignified quality of life for all our citizens.
"We in business have an obligation to give something back to the communities that support us. That includes serving as an example of the way relations among people should be conducted... The cynics will tell you the good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. I'm telling you, do it anyway." - Roberto C. Goizueta
"We have, in fact, become a true embodiment of our world's multi-cultural reality. To face that reality, our leaders must not be satisfied with simply tossing away the blinders of prejudice."
The problem is that, as with our Company, such an answer again immediately raises the other question:
"Just how do we do that?" How do we provide such a high quality of life for all the Atlanta citizens?
Well, some might say we should work to increase Atlanta's stature as a model of all that is good about international business—a bright and shining business Mecca—a business hub infused with all the capital and energy of the world's leading companies and products.
Others would have us work to make Atlanta a model of effective government where the streets are safe and clean, where the trains, buses, and garbage collection run right on time, and local taxes are never out of line with the quality of services they support.
Still others would strive to make Atlanta a model of social responsibility where no one goes hungry, where no one has to shiver homeless in the cold streets, and where racial diversity invigorates the city with flavor instead of inflaming it with hostility.
Finally, others would work at making Atlanta a model of academic and educational excellence where our children have the finest schools available anywhere in the world and where our diverse collection of highly respected universities and colleges makes our city a revered center of higher education, research, and technological advancement.
Those are four very distinct concepts about the quality of life in our city. Ask somebody which aspect is most important, and their answer will likely depend on where they go to work every day.
If you work at The Coca-Cola Company, or even at thousands of other companies, large and small, you would say business.
If you work at City Hall or a fire station, you would say city government.
If you work at United Way or at a homeless shelter at your church, you would say community.
And if you work at Emory University or Bethune Elementary School, you would say education.
The reality, of course, is that none of those elements—business, government, community service, or education—can succeed without the others.
And that is something Atlanta has shown throughout its history, operating under a style of governance that has effectively included the leadership of every major sector of the society. That style of governance raised up "a brave and beautiful city" that carried us peacefully through the civil rights movement and brought us rapid economic growth.
But as we've grown larger and larger, and as our inner workings have grown more and more complex, that style of governance has become more and more difficult to maintain. All the prominent leaders of our city can no longer fit around one cozy dining room table.
We have, in fact, become a true embodiment of our world's multi-cultural reality. To face that reality, our leaders must not be satisfied with simply tossing away the blinders of prejudice. We must also overcome the laziness that allows us to lapse into cliches and banalities, cliches by which we so easily categorize and stereotype people.
As we attend to the unique differences in people—as we break our old ways of listening and speaking to people—then the more our eyes open to a new way of construing the world and the more we come to a new understanding of what it means to live in a community that respects those differences.
It would be much easier if, to do the real business of Atlanta, we could go back to the days when Robert Woodruff, Ivan Allen, Mills B. Lane, and a few others would get together and solve our problems for us over lunch right here at The Commerce Club.
The fact is that the Atlanta they worked so hard to build, and because of their legacy, has just kept on building and building. And now, in many ways, the Atlanta of today has much more in common· with London and Tokyo than it has with the Atlanta of the '30s, '40s, '50s and even '60s.
This transformation demands that we discover new, creative ways to bring our city together. Such transformation demands that we find new, creative ways to re-engage the various elements of our city in doing the real business of Atlanta.
And for those new, creative ways to develop, I believe that we in the business community must broaden our role within that overall leadership framework.
For decades, we have played a highly supportive, largely behind-the-scenes role. But now we must expand that role. We must not only take a bigger seat at the table, we must also help build a table that is big enough and strong enough to hold our entire city together.
Because that is the responsibility that naturally comes with the increasingly influential role of business. Society has always placed its most demanding expectations on its sturdiest institutions. The strongest horse will always be called upon to serve as the lead horse.
"Once again, the various sectors of our city united, each for its own good... and for the overall good of our community."
How will we do it?
That's simple. We will do it one decision at a time. Each time we face a decision, be it large or small, we will remind ourselves what Atlanta's real business is and then all of us will take one more step in raising the quality of life in Atlanta to where it should be.
Such decisions are hardly new to us. We have known for a long time that business must do good for business to do well. The healthier the social environment in which business operates, the better the environment for business, and vice versa. There are plenty of examples of businesses doing the right thing for their communities because they know it is the best thing for their own long-term success.
At The Coca-Cola Company, for example, we were faced with the decision of where to put The World of Coca-Cola—the three-story Coca-Cola museum that now sits adjacent to Underground Atlanta.
We did not consider that decision lightly. The Coca-Cola trademark is sacred to us and we could not afford to make the wrong choice. We could have gone anywhere in the city we wanted: Buckhead... Midtown... the options were limitless. But we knew at that time that the future vibrancy of Downtown depended upon the success of Underground Atlanta.
And so we built it there.
I'm proud to say it was the right move for everybody and we will have more than 1.1 million people to visit The World of Coca-Cola in 1994 alone, enriching the downtown experience for all those visitors.
That's just one example. And there are many more, most of them having nothing to do with bricks and mortar.
For instance, remember back just a few months ago, when the Atlanta business community made the decision to get involved in the school board elections... taking responsibility for making sure our school system got the leadership it needed. With the support of groups as broad as the Chamber of Commerce and groups as precisely focused as 100 Black Men, the best candidates got the backing they deserved so that our children could get the school board they deserved.
Once again, the various sectors of our city united, each for its own good and for the overall good of our community.
I thought about that school effort last week when the voting on the Bond Referendum was postponed. I know there wa some disappointment about the postponement but, to be perfectly honest, I think it gives us a second chance to impact our city's infrastructure in the same way we impacted the school board.
While I know the Chamber did its best to help raise the public awareness of the Bond Referendum, I don't think we as a business community rallied behind the referendum the way we should have.
The day before the referendum was postponed, I talked with our senior officers at The Coca-Cola Company about the bond programs. As you might guess, we talked about how our recent water crisis had pointed out the importance of our city's infrastructure to our business.
Had our city not been properly equipped to handle the crisis as quickly as it did, we at The Coca-Cola Company would have lost water pressure to the point where we would have been forced to shut down our building because of fire codes. You can just imagine how expensive and disruptive it would have been for us to unexpectedly lose a day or two of work from 3,000 employees.
Between now and July, we have a perfect opportunity to help our fellow Atlantans understand the importance of the more than 140 projects this referendum will drive. Virtually any time an election is held in our city, the business community makes a decision, either actively or passively, about our city's future.
And those kinds of decisions are not being made just by business.
Just around the comer, Carl Patton and other leaders at Georgia State University have ambitious goals for their institution. At the same time, they understand that it will be very difficult for them to go up if their neighborhood is on the way down.
So, while many people in this city have given up on Downtown, Georgia State has decided otherwise. Georgia State has decided to take major strides in revitalizing the Fairlie Poplar district of downtown through what is known as the Rialto Project.
That decision, of course, will help Georgia State, providing it a home for one of the largest and most important centers of music education in the Southeast.
But that decision will also help the Fairlie Poplar district, giving it a solid anchor that is far more than just a 9-to-5 tenant with more than 2,000 students living in the immediate area by 1996.
And that decision will also help the entire downtown community as retail stores, food service outlets, and other businesses are sure to follow.
What will be the ultimate result of Georgia State's decision? The result will be that one of our city's most important historical sections will survive. Not only that, it will flourish as a new, stable downtown neighborhood not just for two weeks in 1996, but for years and years to come.
“For me, looking into your eyes is like looking into a mirror. A mirror that takes me back 26 years. Back to a hot, muggy day in 1969 at the federal building in Atlanta… I focused on a solitary flag as I pledged allegiance to my new country, eyes wide with an immeasurable sense of anticipation, excitement, and opportunity. Eyes brightened by a deep sense of gratitude.” - Roberto C. Goizueta
"The day will come—and it will come very soon—when the final note of the closing ceremonies of the Centennial Games has faded to a tiny, faint echo."
Truly wise decisions like that don't happen by accident. Decisions like that are made and they are made by people like you and me.
I know many of you are in the middle of making some major decisions right now, and so are we at The Coca-Cola Company.
Making those decisions correctly becomes simple when we remind ourselves who we are and why we exist.
It becomes simple when we remember that the real business of Atlanta is now—and will always be—to create a dignified quality of life for all our citizens.
It becomes simple when we remember the only way we can achieve that quality of life is for all of us to engage ourselves fully in our Atlanta.
It becomes simple when we keep uppermost in our minds that, much like what I said about The Coca-Cola Company, how we go about doing the real business of Atlanta may change as conditions change, but what that business is, remains a constant.
And it becomes simple when we engage ourselves one decision at a time. Decision by decision, we will chart our long-term future.
Let me close by saying this: The day will come—and it will come very soon—when the final note of the closing ceremonies of the Centennial Games has faded to a tiny, faint echo.
And as we listen to that echo, and as we look back at 1994... 1995... and 1996... we will say that we all worked hard and together we were able to accomplish much in doing the real business of Atlanta.
I submit to you that to do differently is not an option.