Muhtar Kent
© Bloomberg

As the New York-born son of a Turkish diplomat who was raised in Thailand, India, Iran and Turkey, there is no doubt that Coca-Cola chairman and chief executive Muhtar Kent had an eclectic upbringing.

This background has clearly influenced his leadership style, whether it is through the emphasis he has placed on diversity in the workplace or his ability to adapt when he visits the 200-plus countries where Coca-Cola products are sold.

“If you run a global business you really have to understand cultures, you have to understand languages, understand what is important to people in different parts of the world,” Mr Kent said at an EY event last year. “You’ve got to be comfortable living in Munich or Mumbai in today’s world.”

Under his leadership over the past seven years, Coca-Cola’s multicultural workforce has reached 43 per cent of the total in the US from 40 per cent in 2011.

More than half of the Atlanta-based company’s spending on communities goes to non-profit organisations focused on ethnic minorities, veterans, those with disabilities and the LGBT community.

In 2012, he championed the creation of a multicultural leadership council charged with supporting changes in mindsets, behaviours and systems to improve the advancement of multicultural US employees within the firm. The council’s activities included sponsoring the creation of Multicultural Edge, a week-long leadership development programme for emerging leaders, and championing the launch of Diversity 50, a year-long leadership development programme designed to strengthen Coca-Cola’s pipeline of diverse leaders.

Much of Mr Kent’s work in diversity has been focused on women both inside the world’s largest drinks company and among its suppliers and customers in emerging market communities. Under his chairmanship, Coca-Cola has increased the number of women on its 15-member board from two to four. Two of those women are African American and one is Hispanic. Of the 11 male board directors, 10 are white.

Marketing experts argue that diversity is key to a company’s brand given changing US demographics and the increasingly global nature of the country’s corporations. “The reality is we live in an exponentially more diverse world. A brand that’s not reflecting [today’s diversity] is grotesquely out of touch,” says Thomas Ordahl, chief strategy officer at Landor, a brand consultancy. “It’s not a feel good thing, it’s reflecting the market place.”

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