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Coke CEO Roberto C. Goizueta dies at 65


He coined 'Coke Is It!'

October 18, 1997
Web posted at: 11:07 a.m. EDT (1507 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Coca-Cola Chairman Roberto C. Goizueta, a Cuban immigrant who worked his way through the corporate ranks to head one of the world's best-known companies, died Saturday of cancer-related causes. He was 65.

Goizueta had been in critical condition all week at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital with a throat infection related to treatments for lung cancer.

On Thursday, he missed his first board meeting since becoming chairman of the soft drink giant 16 years ago.

CNN's Brian Cabell gives us an inside look at the man that took Coke from the corner soda fountain to the world.
icon 2 min. 30 sec. VXtreme video

Former Delta Air Lines chairman and friend Ron Allen on Goizueta's legacy
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Under Goizueta's leadership, the value of Coca-Cola's stock increased by more than 7,200 percent.

Goizueta, a heavy smoker, was hospitalized September 6 after being diagnosed with lung cancer, and began chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He was released September 22, and continued the regimen, but was rehospitalized last Tuesday with the throat infection.

During his tenure at Coke, Goizueta turned around what some business analysts once called an old, conservative company by emphasizing global sales and making moves never seen by the company before.

His motto: return on investment and stock price.

"The curse of all curses is the revenue line," he once said, referring to the need to be profitable.

And fortunate for him and Coke investors, Goizueta's company was just that. Since becoming CEO in 1981, he created more wealth for shareholders than any other CEO in history, largely due to his global marketing skills. Total return on Coke stock was more than 7,100 percent during his tenure, according to analysts.

A $1,000 investment in Coca-Cola when Goizueta took the top job would be worth about $71,000 today, including reinvested dividends.

He owned nearly 16 million Coke shares worth roughly $1 billion, making him America's first corporate manager to achieve billionaire status through owning stock in a company he didn't help found or take public, business analysts said.

Goizueta had not cashed in a share of his Coke stock in more than two decades. Close friends said he had not sipped a Pepsi, Coke's No. 1 rival, in more than 10 years.

M. Douglas Ivester, 50, has been viewed as Goizueta's likely successor since becoming the company's No. 2 executive three years ago.

Answered a classified ad


Goizueta was born in Havana on November 18, 1931, to a prominent family in Cuba's sugar industry, and studied at a private academy in Connecticut. There, he polished his limited English by watching the same movies over and over.

He earned a degree in chemical engineering at Yale University, then returned home in 1953 to join the family enterprise. But a year later, he entered the soda business by answering a classified advertisement in a Havana newspaper.

"I came across a want ad in the paper -- American company asking for bilingual chemical engineer or chemist," he once said in a CNN interview.

After Fidel Castro came to power, Goizueta, his wife Olga and their three children left their Cuban possessions behind and moved to the United States, where they settled in Miami in 1960. Goizueta continued to work for Coke's Latin American operations, then moved to company headquarters in Atlanta in 1964.

"Once you lose everything, what's the worst that's going to happen to you? You develop a self-assurance," Goizueta once explained.

Working his way up from technical operations, he cultivated a close relationship with Robert Woodruff, who had revitalized the company after taking over in 1923 and who remained its key power broker six decades later.

Known within the company for dogged work, leaving a clean desk each night and impeccable clothes, Goizueta was named a vice chairman in 1979.

Woodruff and others on Coke's board, feeling the company was underperforming financially and had become sluggish, moved Goizueta into the presidency in 1980, and on to chairman of the board and chief executive officer on March 1, 1981.

Transforming the world of Coke

Coke headquarters building

Goizueta thought Coke had become "too conservative," he said in a 1986 interview. "It took us a little bit longer to change than it should have. The world was changing, and we were not changing with the world."

He arranged a retreat for company executives and presented a "strategy for the '80s." He promised no cow would be sacred: "We're going to take risks."

The new CEO immersed himself in the company's accounting and economics. With a new, punchy advertising slogan, "Coke Is It!" he successfully increased domestic sales while continuing to plumb new international markets.

But Goizueta also was responsible for launching New Coke, which he called "the boldest single marketing move in the history of the consumer goods business." The new soda eventually led to protests on city streets as Coke faithful demanded a return of the sweet, caffeinated cola they had come to love.

Coke rebounded by resurrecting the original formula and naming it "Classic" coke.

"Roberto was a man of incomparable wisdom, vision and compassion," said James B. Williams, chairman and chief executive officer of Sun Trust Bank and a member of Coca- Cola's board of directors. "Those qualities benefited not only the company, but the community as well. Roberto was my friend and neighbor, and I will miss him greatly."


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