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Mary Minnick: Coke’s snarly discontent

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In her 23 years at Coca-Cola, Mary Minnick was pretty much never satisfied.

Minnick is blunt. She can be a bulldog. Passed over last year for the job of chief operating officer, she left the company where she’d been a lifer and had done everything except run the entire company’s day-to-day operations.

Maybe her whipsmart approach was too much for the genteel board of the Atlanta-based corporation.

“I tend to be quite discontented in general,” she said a few years ago. “It will never be fast enough or soon enough or good enough.”

Minnick had reason for that statement. At the time, Pepsi had virtually matched Coke’s market value and was gaining fast on profits, although Coke has made a stronger showing recently on quarterly profits.

Only a decade earlier, Coca-Cola had been three times bigger than Pepsi, and for a long time, Coke seemed in denial about the threat from its largest competitor.

Minnick, Coke’s former head of marketing, strategy and innovation, shook things up.

“There was a culture of politeness and consensus and talking around an issue, rather than taking it head-on,” she said. “I would say I have a rather impatient sense of urgency on just about everything.”

Minnick was relentless. She visited companies known for innovation, and in less than two years scored her own successes with new beverages and a well-received “Coke Side of Life” ad campaign. “The fruits of her labors are still being born,” says an investment banker. And her former CEO credits her with creating an “enduring pipeline of innovation.”

Today, Minnick is a partner with a British investment firm. She still doesn’t ingratiate herself and she still doesn’t apologize. She just produces.

— Adapted from “The Pause That Refreshes,” Renuka Rayasam, U.S. News & World Report, and “Queen of Pop,” Dean Foust, BusinessWeek.

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