Will Coke Go Better With Carl Ware?

He's got to soothe frayed ties at home and abroad

It looked like the end of Carl H. Ware's 26-year career at Coca-Cola Co. Last October, Ware, the company's senior black executive, checked his voice mail and was stunned to receive a message from then Chief Executive M. Douglas Ivester that he was being passed over for promotion in a management reshuffle. Ware resigned.

Now, of course, it is Ivester who is out. And Ware, 56, is back at Coke in a big way. On Jan. 4, incoming CEO Douglas N. Daft persuaded Ware to take a key spot on his new team as head of a new global public affairs unit. Ware's job is to become a roving ambassador, putting out fires and building goodwill wherever Coke does business.

It's no small irony that much of Ware's work will be repairing damage wrought by Ivester during his tumultuous two-year reign. Independent bottlers are still seething over his steep price hikes for Coke concentrate. Foreign regulators from Austria to Australia, unhappy with Coke's efforts to snatch ever more market share, now view the soda giant as the quintessential American cultural imperialist. Things are particularly bad in Europe, where Coke sales are just now recovering from last year's badly mishandled contamination scare. And back home, a wide-ranging race discrimination suit is casting a shadow over Daft's tenure before he even begins.

Daft won't discuss specifics on how he plans to tackle Coke's myriad problems before he fully takes charge in April. But he has already made clear that Coke needs to do a much better job courting business and government leaders around the globe. "We must think locally and act locally," he says.

Coke watchers say that's just why Ware was chosen to play a pivotal role in the new regime. Insiders point out that Ware first built his career in the 1970s at Coke in its governmental affairs unit dealing with local officials and community groups. Retired Coke President Donald R. Keough, now chairman of New York investment bank Allen & Co., predicts that with Ware back on board, "Coke will be able to sense the economic, political, and social sensitivities" at play in its many markets.

Ware, too, is mum as to what his first priorities will be, but outsiders agree that he must work to recast Coke as a local company in each of its far-flung markets. Likely moves will include buying more raw materials from domestic suppliers, and stepping up Coke's involvement in local affairs and charities. Ware acknowledges that he faces a tough challenge. "We've got work to do," he says.

SMART MOVES. Still, he seems well suited for the job. After an early career in Atlanta politics, he made a name for himself at Coke by defusing problems before they became full-blown crises. In 1981, Jesse Jackson, critical of Coke's hiring record and its weak support for black-owned businesses, was set to kick off a "Don't Choke on Coke" boycott. Jackson called it off after Ware helped craft a $50 million program to support black vendors.

By 1991, Keough, Ware's mentor, encouraged Ware to move into operations. Enrolling in a Harvard University management program, Ware later spent two years as a deputy group president in Europe and Africa. In 1993, he was named to head up Coke's Africa group.

Working from Atlanta headquarters, Ware dramatically built Coke's presence in Africa. One smart move: He helped organize a U.S. fund-raising tour for Nelson Mandela prior to his 1994 presidential race. That smoothed the way to renew Coke's presence in post-apartheid South Africa, where it now sells 400 million cases annually--roughly half its sales in Africa. By 1998, Coke's net operating revenues there had risen 136% over 1993 levels, to $603 million. Operating income rose 42%, to $215 million. Ware also pushed Coke to provide drought relief in Zimbabwe and refugee support in Rwanda, creating much goodwill. Can Ware do the same around the globe? It's a huge job--but it sure beats early retirement.

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