Inside Coca-Cola: A CEO's Life Story of Building the World's Most Popular Brand

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 February, 2012, 12:00am

Inside Coca-Cola: A CEO's Life Story of Building the World's Most Popular Brand
by Neville Isdell
St Martin's Press

The book starts off strong, with a scene that could have came straight out of a Hollywood spy thriller: former Coca-Cola executive Neville Isdell, while enjoying the retired life in Barbados, receives a phone call from a former colleague, requesting he returns to the job. Isdell's wife, happy with the easy life, is against the idea. But the competitive fire still burns inside the former rugby player, and the job in question is too big to pass up.

Isdell's five-year run as CEO of the beverage company, from 2004 to 2009, is considered to be one of the more successful stints in the company's history, and this book, which Isdell wrote in collaboration with Atlanta-based writer David Beasley, is part memoir, part historical account of one of the most recognisable brands in the world.

But despite the dramatic opening, and a journey that covers Africa, Asia, Europe and Atlanta, the book falls short, often treading territories ranging between bland and snooze-worthy. Isdell, who was born in Northern Ireland and grew up in southern Africa, isn't to blame here. He isn't afraid to speak ill of former colleagues and he discusses, with candour, Coca-Cola's darkest days (including the 1997 death of brand leader Roberto Goizueta and the company's reputation for being a major cause of diabetes and obesity in America).

The problem is that Isdell, whose career started at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Zambia from where he worked his way up, is simply a straightforward, blue-collar worker. Passages from the book - whether detailing breakthroughs in markets such as India or personal struggles - maintain a flat, matter-of-fact tone.

Personal anecdotes spill through the book as Isdell retraces his life story from childhood to the day he met his wife. Some of these titbits intrigue; most do not.

For readers interested in the inner workings of a multibillion-dollar company and how the business operates, Inside Coca-Cola does an adequate job of providing insight, however.