Muhtar Kent never set out to become the leader of a multinational organization after he graduated with his MBA in 1977. He began his post-MBA job hunt looking for two things – a worldwide and diverse organization and the potential for career growth.
Now, he is leading the world’s largest beverages organization – The Coca-Cola Company.
His journey to the top of Coca-Cola, where he holds the position of chief executive officer (CEO) and chairman of the board of directors, started when he saw a classified advert for a position with the 125-year-old beverages company.
“To be honest, I wasn’t thinking specifically about becoming a CEO at a large consumer-based organization. I just knew that I wanted to be part of a world class company, in a growth industry, and part of an organization where diversity was valued and where there was a global perspective.”
Kent’s career with Coca-Cola spans three decades and his climb to the top began one year after he graduated with his MBA from Cass Business School in London, England.
He joined Coca-Cola in Atlanta in 1978 and held a variety of marketing and operations roles prior to 1985, when he ascended to the role of general manager of Coca-Cola Turkey and Central Asia.
Kent’s promotion in 1989 saw him managing Coca-Cola’s operations in 23 countries as president of Coca-Cola's Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) division and senior vice president of Coca-Cola International. He later took up the position of managing director of Coca-Cola Amatil Limited Europe, leading bottling operations in 12 countries between 1995 and 1998.
His brief departure from the global beverages company in 1999 made way for an executive position at the Istanbul-based brewery, Efes Beverage Group, brewers of Turkey’s best selling beer, Efes Pilsen.
Six years later, Kent returned to Coca-Cola as president and chief operating officer for the North Asia, Eurasia and Middle East group in 2005.
His remit expanded to include operations in other countries including China, Japan and Russia in 2006. In the same year, Kent became the president and chief operating officer of The Coca-Cola Company, where he oversees all operations of the business.
In just two years, Kent received one of the biggest promotions of his career yet – he was appointed as chief executive officer of The Coca-Cola Company, and later took on the role as chairman of the board of directors in 2009.
Looking back at the start of his career with Coca-Cola, he says, “The company has embodied so many of the characteristics and attributes that I was looking for and which captivated me as a young graduate – and it still does.”
Kent says his business success stems partly from his MBA studies at Cass Business School.
“My MBA experience taught me to really refine both the analytical side of my thinking and the creative and emotional side – something that has paid off in droves as I have progressed through my career.”
However, he feels the most valuable lesson from his MBA was learning to take a holistic approach on business, “It teaches you to have a holistic view of the mechanics, strategies and psychology of business. That was invaluable to me.”
When asked what he enjoyed most about studying for an MBA, Kent says it was the challenges.
As with many MBA programs, one of the biggest challenges that many students face is the pressure of managing assignments and coursework with family and personal commitments. But looking back at his time at Cass, he says: “My MBA years forced me to stretch myself and juggle demanding classes and group assignments.
"You can’t survive in a rigorous MBA environment unless you force yourself to prioritize and focus, and make the right judgment calls when it comes to your personal life. For me, I also had the added bonus of really enjoying the classes, the teachers and the camaraderie.”
However, his least favorite aspect of his MBA experience was not related to the program, but the UK’s winters.
“Coming from a Mediterranean climate, the grey and misty UK winters could be a bit relentless. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it – my demanding coursework forced me to be inside most of the time with my books.”
Kent’s advice for business management success is to transfer the skills and knowledge learnt from the MBA classroom to the realities of the business world.
“Don’t let the curriculum force you to think in the abstract. If you’re already an entrepreneur or a manager in a business, transfer what you’ve learnt in class to the realities of the real world.
“If you haven’t had business experience, use this time to cultivate the knowledge resources and relationships that you will need later on when you venture out on your own. Most of all enjoy this experience.
"An MBA will be more valuable in the coming years than it has ever been.”
Kent says an effective leader requires a strong strategy: “To effectively lead in an organization, particularly a large one, you first need to develop a vision of where you want to go and have an effective strategy on how to get there.
“Always be flexible, so you can constantly refine and fine tune as you go along. You also need to be able to effectively process a lot of information coming to you from many angles and be able to act effectively on that information. Being a fast mover is critical. You also have to have an ability to relate to people, read people, and forge strong relationships at all levels and stages in your career.”