Column: Through wave of change, Coke says it’s still committed to Atlanta
By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on June 30, 2017
As The Coca-Cola Co. undergoes a transformation of its business and scales down by 1,200 positions — mainly at its corporate headquarters, there has been concern about the company’s commitment to Atlanta.
That’s according to the key individuals who head the company’s civic efforts: Bea Perez, chief public affairs, communications and sustainability officer who also chairs the Coca-Cola Foundation; and Helen Smith Price, vice president of global community affairs and president of the Coca-Cola Foundation.
“There’s no question we’re going through a massive transition,” Perez said. “We are becoming leaner and more agile. But we can’t underestimate the difficulty of change. The heart and soul of this company is community. In times like this, it’s even more important to strengthen our relationships. We need to show we support the people who support us.”
Price, an Atlanta native, who has had a leadership role with the foundation since 2001, agreed.
“The really good news for me in my role is that company’s commitment through the foundation has not changed,” Price said. “We are good.”
The transition is coming from the new company’s new leadership with CEO James Quincey succeeding Muhtar Kent a couple of months ago.
One of the significant changes has been the retirement of Clyde Tuggle, who served as senior vice president and chief public affairs and communications officer. Tuggle just turned over the gavel as president of the Rotary Club of Atlanta, which hosted the Rotary International convention in mid-June.
Tuggle, also an Atlanta native, has been a community touchpoint for a host of initiatives and organizations.
Perez said her challenge will be to take “what Clyde built in this community and make it stronger.” She said Tuggle mentored her, and he trusted her when he made her chair of the foundation.
Tuggle, who was part of the interview with Perez and Price, has been with the company for more than 28 years, and it’s important to see the transition in a historical context.
“In 132 years, the company has gone through good times and bad times,” Tuggle said. “We are just going through another period of change.”
But Tuggle added that Quincey, who he called the right leader at the right time, is making the necessary moves for the company to evolve to the next level.
As for his role at The Coca-Cola Co., Tuggle compared it to the Eagles’ song Hotel California, reciting the refrain: “You can check out but you can never leave.”
Although Tuggle won’t be employed by the company, he won’t stop being involved.
“The company has asked me to continue to support many of the institutions,” he said.
“I’m the incoming chair of the World Affairs Council. I’m there at the request of the company to be involved with the international community.”
Tuggle, who recently married Mary Street, an executive with BP North America in Washington, D.C., also will continue to serve on the board of Agnes Scott and be on the search committee for a new president.
“I have no intention of leaving Atlanta,” Tuggle said. “The great thing about this city is you can move here from anywhere and in a very short period of time become a native Atlantan.”
Case in point is Perez, who has been in Atlanta 24 years.
“I have really fallen in love with this city and everything it has to offer,” said Perez, adding that she feels as though she’s become an Atlanta native. She just joined the board of the Atlanta Police Foundation, she’s been on the foundation board of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for 10 years and has just joined the CHOA system’s board. She’s been involved a Pace Academy, where her children have gone to school, and she’s been involved with Atlanta’s Latin American community.
The challenge with the layoffs is “making sure people still have love for the company when they leave.”
Perez also responded to fears that the company might be acquired by out-of-state enterprise, which would be devastating for Atlanta.
“We are transforming our business so we can make sure we remain the Coca-Cola that people know and love,” she said. “James is positioning us for growth.”
Meanwhile, Price said the company is deeply involved in several initiatives on the Westside, and she said there will be several announcements in the near future. She also said there are a number of other executives and employees throughout the company that have significant leadership roles in the community.
Quincey himself, has just been invited to join the high-level Atlanta Committee for Progress, and he has committed to attend its quarterly meetings as often as possible.
“In the conversations I’ve had with James, he’s mindful and very respectful of the history Coca-Cola has in this city,” Tuggle said. “I expect him to be very engaged. As I’m stepping back, Bea has a remarkable team, and she’s building an even stronger bench.”
Saxby Chambliss at Rotary
At his last meeting as Atlanta Rotary president, Clyde Tuggle invited former Sen. Saxby Chambliss to speak to the club.
Chambliss remembered being at the club six years earlier with Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia. The two were part of a group of Republican and Democratic senators seeking to forge bipartisan solutions on reducing the debt and instituting tax reform.
Chambliss bemoaned the fact that there is little bipartisan cooperation in today’s Congress, and he pointed to the health care bill and to the growing debt as evidence of the need for greater ties between the parties.
Chambliss was asked about the wall President Donald Trump has pledged to build between the United States and Mexico.
“The last thing we need to do is shut ourselves off from one of our largest trading partners,” said Chambliss, who added there may be some areas where a wall might be needed. “I’m not sure a pure physical wall will ever be the answer. Figuring out how to do more business with our neighbors on the north and our neighbors on the south will make both our and their economies stronger.”