What Knowledge is Useful? > Companies and Functions
Brown on Coca-Cola
Initially, if I could digress for this, because it really has a major impact in my career, and I think in a lot of people at the School, I had a student named Neil Gilead in the AMP, in the early days of the AMP, maybe 1961, or ’62. Somewhere along in there, maybe even earlier. And Neil was in, essence, the vice president of marketing for Coca-Cola. He was actually employed by one of the big advertising agencies in New York City, but he was, in reality, the marketing vice president of Coca-Cola.
And he came to me one time, and he said, “I think we’d like to have you set up a course for the franchisers, or franchisees in the Coca-Cola business to teach them marketing.” And I said to Neil, I said, “Well, that sounds great,” I said, “I’d love to do it but,” I said, “I don’t really know anything about Coca-Cola or its business.” And I said, “I don’t know what these people know, or don’t know.” And I suggested to him that I put together a team, and we do some research to find out exactly what I just mentioned that, “What is Coca-Cola all about?” And I literally had no idea what Coca-Cola was all about any more than this is what somebody drank.
I recruited Marty Marshall, who has also left the School now. Is still alive and kicking, and seems to be—did have a great career as head of the Smaller Company Management Program. Marty and I toured the entire United States interviewing little franchises, big ones, Los Angeles, up in Minnesota. I remember going to some little town and interviewing somebody. And we were trying to get an idea of what do these people know about marketing, and the answer was pretty much they didn’t know anything. They really didn’t know anything about sophisticated business operation.
The actual operation of Coca-Cola at that time—this would be late 1960s—was pretty much that the Coca-Cola franchise people, they were production people. They manufactured the product. They got the syrup from the parent company. They put the syrup into containers, the bottles. There was one product: Coca-Cola. There was one price; there was one size package. They produced the stuff. They had a delivery system. They delivered to every known source, every known retail outlet. And the marketing was setting up displays, and that was the only participation they really had, in the sense of marketing. And the only effort on top of all this was that the parent company paid an immense amount of money out on advertising on a national basis.
But suddenly the world was changing; competition was changing. The whole business was becoming more sophisticated. Supermarkets were developing; private brands were developing more vigorously. Different packaging was coming under way. As a result of that, there was different pricing. And the whole thing was becoming more complicated. Many of these people had no financial background. I remember that one of them we visited came in each morning and counted the cash. That’s what he thought financial management was. On top of that, they had no people skills. They had some drivers, and some people who worked in the so-called factory almost. And that was about it.
So we then recommended that they set up a course which consisted of, or comprised three parts: a course in marketing, a course in people management, and a course in financial management. And I got Paul Lawrence to take on developing the people management side. And John Yeager to develop the financial side. And I, together with Marty Marshall, developed the marketing.
And these were two weeks, and we brought franchisees in from all over the United States to take this six week program. And people would come first for two weeks of marketing. And then they’d go away for three, four months. And then they’d come back for two weeks, and took the finance. And then they’d go back and take the third part. This was an immense success. . . . .
I should mention that this was so successful it was even written up in the annual report of Coca-Cola. And this was so successful that the company wanted to go overseas. And this leads back to international marketing. So they said, “We’d like you to set up a program in Europe.” And I said, “Well, that’s fine, but we don’t know anything about Europe, and how things are marketed there, and so on.” So Marty and I, together with two or three other people, went to Europe, and made a study there, and recommended that a similar program be developed, and set up in Europe, which we did. . . . .
But this program got me exposed to a new world for me. I had never been to Europe in any major way, and I never studied there or taught there. And I began to be exposed to all this stuff in the late sixties.
Subsequently, just carbon copies of this thing were set up for Coca-Cola in Central America, in South America, and subsequently, after these were successful, they wanted us to do it in Japan. And I said, “This is beyond me.” I said, “I can’t handle Japan.” And but we had this great professor at the School—I guess maybe he’s still there here in 2008—he’s Mike Yoshino. And I asked Mike Yoshino if he’d undertake it, and he did. And so we never got into the Japanese part of it.
This, obviously, exposed us, and a number of us, to lots of international marketing, and lots of what’s going on in the world. So this all had an influence as to what we taught, and how we taught at AMP.