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Coke's Brock: Sustainability Is No Longer 'Niche'

John Brock has come a long way since his first jobs working in his uncle's dime store and, later, at a paper mill in Moss Point, Miss.

Today, he is chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE - Get Report), the world's largest marketer, producer and distributor of Coca-Cola (KO - Get Report) products. Brock has more than 25 years of experience in the beverage sales industry. In 2003, he was named CEO of Interbrew, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. In 2006, he joined Coca-Cola Enterprises where he was appointed chairman in April 2008.

Brock talked with Knowledge@Wharton about Coke's philosophy on selling soda in schools, helping the environment and recruiting teens to become devoted customers.

Knowledge@Wharton: What's it like to run the world's largest soft drink distributor? And what is your most memorable moment from your world travels?

John Brock: Well, it's fascinating to be given the responsibility and the privilege of leading this awesome company -- 73,000 people in six countries. And handling the world's most iconic brand, Coca-Cola, along with lots of other incredibly exciting brands. So it's a fun job. It's a passionate job. The thing I like about it the most is the fact that our people are committed, they're intense, they want to win, they feel, they believe Coca-Cola all the time. And it's just a beautiful thing.

It has been a terrific experience for me for two and a half years, because before that, I was in the beer business, and I ran the largest beer company in the world. And before that, I was at Cadbury Schweppes (CBY) in London for seven years, and in Connecticut for 13. So for me, being back in Atlanta, where I actually went to college -- I graduated from Georgia Tech many years ago and haven't lived in Atlanta, really, since college. And now, having the chance to be back in Atlanta with Coca-Cola Enterprises, working with this terrific company, it's a huge responsibility, but at the end of the day, it's fun.

Knowledge@Wharton: How is the company responding to high schools that are getting rid of soft drink machines to offer healthier beverage options?

Brock: Well, we in the Coca-Cola Company and our competitive soft drink companies all decided several years ago, actually, we linked up with the Clinton Foundation and with The American Heart Association, and developed a very clear set of guidelines for pulling a number of our beverages out of schools.

We decided that, given the issues that are at play in our country today, that it didn't make sense, frankly, to offer sugared products, sugared soft drinks, in any schools, starting all the way with kindergarten up through high school. And so those are being voluntarily pulled out, have been over the last several years. And we've just about completed that.

We still offer a selection of products, particularly in high schools, which we think is appropriate. One of the things that we think is very important for American high school students, and ultimately, consumers, is to have freedom of choice, and to make wise choices. And so one of the things we've been trying to do in high schools, for example, is offer water, enhanced water, juices, milk, but diet soft drinks and diet sports drinks, because that's a, we believe, very reasonable kind of selection from which they can choose. And so that's the direction in which we're going.

I would say we feel very comfortable, in total, about the moves we've made to voluntarily pull beverages out of high schools. We think that's a far better way to go than for the government to be telling us what to do. Legislation often ends up legislating the wrong thing. And in this case, we feel like we've made the right decisions by taking it upon ourselves, as an industry, to do what's right.
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