Despite the prevailing economic malaise of the past few years, America‘s ability to reinvent itself will lead to renewed growth that will bolster Coca-Cola Co.‘s worldwide strategy, said Muhtar Kent, the company’s chairman and CEO.
“We’re beginning to see the first rays of light through that long dark tunnel,” Mr. Kent said, according to a copy of remarks prepared for Dec. 2 speech at the National Press Club in Washington. “If we muscle through, I believe we’re not only going to see a return to pre-2008 economic conditions, but we’re also going to witness potentially unprecedented levels of growth and prosperity in the years ahead.”
Mr. Kent called himself an “unabashed optimist” and compared today’s economic climate with the “somber and anxious” mood of the late 1970s, from which the U.S. eventually recovered and thrived through uniquely American innovation and entrepreneurship.
At the root of Mr. Kent’s optimism is his view of the American population, which he said is growing, multicultural, enterprising, innovative and young.
“By 2050, only a quarter of our population will be over 60, compared with 31 percent in China and 41 percent in Japan – and even higher percentages in much of Europe,” he said.
He conceded that Coke has a “long way to go” in renewing its American business but noted that this year Coke has seen back-to-back quarters of growth for the first time in five years. Though the biggest gains have been in international markets, Mr. Kent said recovery in the U.S. is crucial to the success of Coke’s 2020 Vision plan, which aims to double the Atlanta-based beverage giant’s business globally in 10 years.
That said, success in global markets is fueling investments in the American business, helping the company invest in the future even during the downturn in the U.S.
“Here’s what our global success allows us to do at Coca-Cola: In just the last five years, we have invested nearly $20 billion dollars in capital expenditures and acquisitions right here in the U.S.,” Mr. Kent said. “When the calendar reaches Dec. 31 this year, we will have invested $3.2 billion dollars in one of the most economically difficult years in the U.S. since the Great Depression.”
And it’s not just Coke whose global operations are a boon to the national economy. Global companies directly employ more than 22 million workers in the U.S. and support 41 million American jobs through their supply chains, he said.
He added that far from outsourcing American jobs, Coke’s global business is fueling American employment. He cited a $115 million expansion of a citrus processing plant in Florida that will create 135 jobs, directly connecting the project to rising juice demand in China.
And international trade is only one part of the picture. The American recovery, which he sees as inevitable, will be propelled by the attributes that have made the country great throughout its history: innovation, education and entrepreneurship, Mr. Kent said.
He warned, though, that leaders should take a hands-off approach that allows businesses to let their creative energies go to work.
“In the coming years, our national focus needs to be more on entrepreneurship and growth and less on taxation and regulation that threatens incentive, investment and growth,” he said.
To read Mr. Kent’s full speech, click here.