Robert Goizueta created more stockholder wealth than anyone in history. Here's how he did it...
The late Roberto Goizueta helped catapult the successful but stagnant Coca-Cola into the world's most powerful brand and one of the greatest generators of stockholder wealth in history. At the time of his death, he was hailed in papers around the world as one of the most innovative and successful CEO's of our time. Yet little is known of this corporate maverick. This is his story.
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About the Author
DAVID GREISING is the Atlanta bureau chief of BusinessWeek magazine, and has covered Goizueta and Coca-Cola since arriving in Atlanta in early 1994. A graduate of DePauw University, he was a business columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times before joining BusinessWeek's Chicago bureau in 1989. He is also the author of Brokers, Bagmen & Moles: Fraud and Corruption in the Chicago Futures Market (Wiley).
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The young Cuban scrutinizing the pages of Diario de La Marina did not typically read the help-wanted section of Havana's oldest and most conservative newspaper. But on June 18, 1954, Roberto Crispulo Goizueta was trolling through the want ads. For the first time in his 22 years, he was looking for a job. Not just any job, for Roberto Goizueta was a man of expectations. After graduating at the top of his class from Cuba's most prestigious academy and earning a degree from Yale University, he was not about to make a false step at the start of his career. Roberto Goizueta's new job would have to do more than feed, clothe, and house his family. It must declare his independence from his father, fulfill the promise of his schooling, and give substance to his ambition. And with his young wife Olguita just pregnant with their first child, the job must befit the standing of a young couple starting life together on the top rung of Cuban society.
father's company. Crispulo Goizueta was an architect and real estate investor who had assumed control of his wife's family's sugar interests after his father-in-law, Marcelo Cantera, retired. Senor Cantera had come to Cuba from Spain and had made a fortune investing in a sugar mill and refinery during the Depression of the 1930s. Or, there was Olguita's family. Her father, Segundo Casteleiro, was one of Cuba's most prominent merchants, best known for the Lonja del Comercio wholesale food business and the Casteleiro & Visozo office equipment company. The businesses had been good to Senor Casteleiro. His clan was reputed to be one of the dozen wealthiest families in Cuba. A position could certainly be found within the Casteleiro enterprises.
his father had taught him one thing: He was not cut out to be the boss' son--or son-in-law. He wanted a job where his judgment would be questioned. He wanted to compete with his peers. He wanted success untainted by suspicion of nepotism. "I was a freshly graduated chemical engineer, and everyone was telling me how great I was," Goizueta would recall later. "It was obvious to me that, no matter what I did, everyone would say it was great because I was the owner's son. I knew I would always be the owner's son. It got to the point where I didn't know whether I was in fact good or I wasn't." He wanted out, and he wanted up. And if he could find a position that would provide both, he would take it.
business district down busy Calzada Street, he still wondered about the identity of the company looking to employ a bilingual chemical engineer. It could easily be Procter & Gamble, which produced Camay soap at a Havana factory. Or one of the American tire companies, B.F. Goodrich or Goodyear Tire & Rubber; each had sizable Cuban production operations. General Electric and Westinghouse both had Cuban plants, too. Any of those could use the services of a talented chemical engineer.
familiar name. But if Cia Embotelladora was not known in Cuba, its product most certainly was. Embotelladora's parent company was a household name to every office worker, peasant, and businessman who walked, bicycled, or drove down the crowded streets of Cuba's business district, or through the rich hills of Cuba's sugar, tobacco, and pineapple plantations. Embotelladora was owned by The Coca-Cola Company, whose 6 1/2-ounce "Coca" bottle accounted for nearly half of the country's soft drink consumption. The red disk advertisement proclaiming "Disfruta Coca-Cola"--Enjoy Coca-Cola--was a familiar icon throughout the island country of 6.5 million people. The soft drink was even served at the exclusive Havana Yacht Club, where the Goizueta and Casteleiro families were members. In fact, as a young girl, Olguita had enjoyed a daily breakfast of buttered toast and "Coca," a habit she dropped before marrying Roberto.
Working for his father, he was earning twice what Coke was offering, so he would have to take a pay cut, and there would be lots of travel. The salary was $500 a month, eventually. For the six-month probation period, during which his first child was expected, Goizueta would earn only half that amount. But the job fit well with his education--very well, from the Coke manager's point of view. Many young Cuban aristocrats went to school in the United States, but few could be more qualified than a chemical engineer from Yale. With such a pedigree, the reserved and confident Goizueta seemed the perfect person to join the quality control section of Coke's Cuban operations, with oversight for production processes in Cuba's three company-run Coke plants.
work on Saturdays. When Roberto had told his father he wanted to work on his own, Crispulo withheld his objections and even encouraged Roberto to make the move. Yet he could not do without his son completely, so Crispulo extracted a compromise: "I want you to work with me on Saturdays, so you can keep in touch with the family business." Crispulo figured the "experiment" might last a year--two at most--and it made sense for Roberto to keep current to ease his expected return. Roberto had two younger sisters, Olivia and Vivien, but in Cuba in the early 1950s, there was no chance that one of the girls would someday run the business.
Roberto's decision to leave the family business. In most Cuban families, such an abandonment would be considered a grave insult and would risk opening an almost unbreachable chasm between the generations. Indeed, Roberto knew most of his friends would find his decision crazy. Many of them would kill to have the opportunities he had, to step into a family enterprise that guaranteed a steady income, and a fortune over time. But Goizueta was willing to walk away from it all with his move to Coke.
explained the dilemma presented by his father's request that he continue spending time working for the family company. "I'll work Sundays for The Coca-Cola Company if you want me to," Goizueta said. "But Saturdays I cannot." With a handshake, the deal was done. Goizueta had a job. His starting date: July 4, 1954. Goizueta was struck by the irony. Independence Day in the country of his new employer would be the start of his private experiment in autonomy. He liked the omen.
BREAKING AWAY FROM HIS FATHER WAS THE FIRST BOLD ASSERTION of independence in the life of Roberto C. Goizueta. From the time he was born in his father's mansion to the day he announced he would leave, Goizueta had led an exemplary if unremarkable life of diligence and conformity. From his classmates in Cuba to his classmates at Yale, no one who came across him in those formative years predicted the kind of independence that Goizueta demonstrated by turning away from his father's business and setting out on his own. None saw him as the sort who would one day lead one of the world's great corporations, and become one of the century's most effective chief executives.
demonstrated an independence of mind and an indifference to the constraints of custom that would mark him as a leader throughout his life. There were no corner lemonade stands or newspaper routes in Roberto's youth to mark him early on as a protocapitalist. His privileged upbringing would have made such undertakings unseemly. But his march to independence was marked with traits that characterized him throughout his life: the knack for quiet leadership that won him Belen Academy's top honor, the diligent work ethic that got him through Yale, the devotion that bound him to Olguita at such an early age and, frankly, the touch of luck that led him to choose a job at Coca-Cola that was a lifeline when Castro's revolution ripped the future out of the hands of so many of his peers in Havana. These characteristics, alone and in combination, would serve Roberto Goizueta as he climbed to the top of Coke, and then took his company's performance to the top of the charts.
vied for the top job, Goizueta's Cuban upbringing became a useful tool that helped improve the trajectory of his career path. His Cuban roots had an exotic appeal to the old-line Southerners running the company as they began focusing on the need to internationalize Coke's management to match the global growth of the business. And his aristocratic breeding gave him an aura that very early on served as a passport into Coke's upper echelon of managers, especially Robert W. Woodruff, the longtime Coca-Cola chieftain who liked to surround himself with people of high social and political standing. Woodruff populated his social life with people as diverse as the golfer Bobby Jones and U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower. The more curious their background the better.
He did have an impressive background that would have drawn admiration and attention in its own right. But he also could not resist embroidering the story of his background with details that stretched and sometimes even broke the bounds of credulity. He exaggerated his family's economic standing, underplayed his exposure to the English language, and even overstated his success at Yale. He built a mythology about his early years that helped persuade Woodruff and Coke chief executive Paul Austin that Goizueta was a man of great promise almost from the day he arrived in the United States in the fall of 1960.
independent, driven, and successful people. In striking out alone to start his career at Coke in 1954, Goizueta actually was following in the steps of his own grandparents, who had left Spain during the great migration of the late 1800s that helped settle Cuba as a Spanish colony. Both sets of Goizueta's grandparents were immigrants from Spain. As was the case with most Cubans, the Spanish heritage exerted a dominant influence on Goizueta's young life. His family were Basques, a fiercely independent and reserved ethnic group from the northeastern part of Spain. The Basques are light-skinned--a proof that their ancient ancestors steadfastly resisted commingling with any foreign interlopers, especially the Moors who infiltrated the family trees of many southern Spanish regions. "A foreign land is a land of wolves" is but one of many proverbs that Basques use to reflect, and to shape, their worldview--an admonition Goizueta steadfastly ignored later in his career as he expanded Coke's reach around the globe.
childhood, the English writer Rodney Gallop described "some impressions of the Basque character: loyalty and rectitude; dignity and reserve; independence and a strong sense of race and racial superiority; a serious outlook tempered by a marked sense of humor and capacity for enjoyment; deep religious feeling; and a cult of tradition amounting almost to ancestor worship." These were among the complex and sometimes conflicting cultural influences that washed over Roberto Goizueta as he was raised, among many other Basque descendants, in the most exclusive neighborhood of Cuba's capital city. The characteristics could easily be a profile of Roberto Goizueta, who mixed a strong sense of decorum with a wry sense of humor, whose strong self-confidence sometimes gave way to an attitude of superiority, and whose attachment to his grandfather's aphorisms characterized both his conversations and his management methods throughout his life and career.
Vedado section of Havana, an enclave of mansions and Old World money that dominated the city's business and social fabric. Born on November 18, 1931 in his father's house, Goizueta grew up as a toddler in the baroque mansion his father had built in the hilly Vedado neighborhood that overlooked Havana harbor. As the highlight of the mansion's sumptuous decor, his father commissioned a Spanish touch--a two-story stain-glass depiction of Don Quixote jousting with a windmill. The home was so impressive that the Castro government later converted it into the Cuban National Academy of Sciences, making it one of the few residential buildings that remains in virtually prerevolution condition.
greatly influenced by his maternal grandfather Marcelo Cantera's recollections of Spain and his own distinctively Spanish outlook on life. While Goizueta was young, his father was frequently away on business, traveling the country looking after the family's holdings. His grandfather stood in as a welcome surrogate, holding court in an office just off the family living room, reciting verses he had penned, and imbuing Roberto with a sense of his family's ethnic heritage. The aphorisms delivered by his grandfather from a study in the Goizueta's home would serve Roberto well for decades to come. "He'd rather be the head of the mouse than the tail of the lion," Senor Cantera would say, explaining the tendency of ambitious Cubans to go into business for themselves. He counseled discretion by saying, "The fish only gets hooked when he opens his mouth." Another proverb became a guiding light that would help Roberto take confidence in his decisions to make abrupt changes in Coke's strategic direction: "The quality of one's compromises is more important than the correctness of one's positions." And one of Roberto's favorites, "If my grandmother had wheels, she would be a bicycle," served him for years as a cutting rejoinder whenever someone posed a question he considered unanswerable, or one based on improbable assumptions.
Spanish immigrant, Marcelo Cantera began building his fortune by trading typewriters and air conditioners. Realizing that Cuba's sugar mills spent vast sums on bags for sugar, he bought acreage and planted crops used in fabricating the bags. Hardworking and thrifty, Senor Cantera impressed on the young Roberto the importance of cash and an abhorrence of debt. He saved diligently during the early years of his life in Cuba, so when the Depression hit Cuba in the 1930s, Marcelo Cantera had the resources to create the family enterprise by buying out struggling sugar mill investors. During the Depression, "he was able to buy a sugar mill and refinery for peanuts," Goizueta would later boast.
business. The connotation of outright ownership exaggerated the nature of the stake held by his grandfather and managed later by his father. The holding company listed as Roberto's place of future employment in his Yale yearbook was called Compania Industrial del Tropico S.A. Its lone mill holding was San Augustin, a small mill near the town of Zulueta, outside of Havana. The owners of record of the San Augustin mill actually were Elier and Alfredo Rodriguez, prominent Cuban businessmen. Senor Cantera owned a minority interest in the San Augustin mill and is not known to have had other mill holdings. The mill was hardly a titan of the Cuban sugar industry. In its last year of operation before the Castro revolution, the San Augustin mill produced only 30,000 tons of raw sugar. The country's largest mills, in towns such as Caracas and Placetas, produced as many as 350,000 tons a year. Still, even a small sugar mill was a substantial, capital-intensive enterprise. A minority stake could be worth millions.
doubt that the Goizueta family were bona fide members of upper-class Havana society. Goizueta's parents belonged to the Havana Yacht Club and the exclusive Havana Country Club. It is not known whether they joined the other two of Havana's "Big Four" clubs, the posh, newly constructed Biltmore Country Club, where Havana's old money families did their best to mix with the nouveau riche without discomfort, and the Havana Tennis Club, which a few middle-class Cubans were even allowed to join. The Goizuetas were not regulars in the active party circuit of high-society Havana, but they were known to appear at the major annual social events, such as the annual yacht club ball. Crispulo Goizueta was listed as an architect and property owner in the Registro Social de La Habana, the who's who of Havana high society.
A GREGARIOUS YET PURPOSEFUL MAN, CRISPULO GOIZUETA SEEMED to care little about club memberships, the Social Register, and other inconsequential measures of social standing. He had one indicator of consequence: an education at the right school. And for his only son, there was only one choice, Colegio de Belen, the academy of Cuba's upper class. Many of Cuba's political, business, and military leaders were schooled at Belen, a Jesuit-run school on a large tract of land in the heart of the residential Bethlehem Heights district of Havana. More than any single aspect of his upbringing, Goizueta's education at Belen inculcated him with a discipline and sense of status that would stay with him throughout his life. At Belen, Goizueta was competing with his country's best young men, and his success at the school filled him with an unshakable self-confidence that sometimes bordered on arrogance.
the aristocratic class of prerevolutionary Cuba. Built in 1926 to replace the original school founded in the late 1800s, Belen Academy had a flat, four-story entrance building a block long. Behind it were two open courtyards separated by more classroom space, which in turn opened onto a large semicircular courtyard from which classrooms and dormitory buildings emanated like rays of the sun. The school was attended by 1,000 of Cuba's most promising young men, 350 of whom were boarders from outlying provinces.
would stay there through high school. As early as the third grade, he was recognized as one of the school's outstanding students and ranked among the top five in his class in grammar, mathematics, geography, and English. People who knew the young Goizueta described him as a kind of man-child--always serious and mannered, well-dressed, very studious, and quiet. Much of that demeanor was no doubt a result of Belen's regimented approach to education and social training. Priests at the academy sought to mix discipline with an atmosphere of academic freedom as they schooled and polished the young men who were destined to lead their country. The classic course of study included romance languages, an emphasis on Spanish history, and plenty of Roman Catholic indoctrination. The Jesuit hierarchy in Cuba at the time was made up of politically conservative priests who had strong emotional and career ties to Spain. Many of them had come to Cuba after cheering Generalissimo Francisco Franco's fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War of 1939.
and segregated classes. One consisted of the day students, like Goizueta, who were almost uniformly from Havana's older, monied families, some nouveau riche, and the political elite. As a third-generation Cuban, Roberto Goizueta was looked on as the progeny of one of the country's more established families. The second group of students--the boarders--were typically from nouveau riche families living in outlying provinces, and were viewed as a lower social group by both the teachers and the day students. The boarders attended a separate Mass every morning, before the day students arrived, took many of their classes separately, and ate lunch in a cafeteria while most of the day students went home.
differed markedly from that of Belen Academy's other best-known graduate, Fidel Castro. Although they attended Belen at the same time, Castro was four years older than Goizueta and the two never met, but the impact that the experience had on the two men speaks to the important role that social and economic class had on the grooming of two different but very talented students. Castro was an exceptional athlete and a brilliant, if sometimes indifferent, academic. Castro's athletic exploits and his oratorical skill created a sensation. In fact, an article in Diario de La Marina headlined Castro's athletic triumphs at Belen and quoted the future revolutionary speaking favorably about fascism.
matriculated at the University of Havana and became influenced by some of that school's liberal faculty. Even so, Belen gave him his first exposure to the uglier side of class warfare. Castro came from Oriente, a province of Cuba considered inferior by inhabitants of virtually every other region. And Belen's rigid breakdown between boarders and day students reinforced that class distinction. Still, even though the experience at Belen sensitized Castro to the demoralizing influence of class snobbery, it apparently did not embitter him to the school itself. El Presidente returned to Belen in 1997 for a ceremony enshrining his old dormitory room as a national landmark.
DURING SCHOOL MONTHS, CONCERNS OF CLASS AND SOCIAL STANDING were of no concern to young Roberto. His day was one of regimentation from dawn to dusk. Belen's private bus arrived each school day promptly at 7:30 A.M., and class began at 8:30. He rode home for lunch, returned to school, and got back home late in the afternoon. The school uniform never varied: shirts with half-inch black-and-white stripes, a black knit tie, and chino pants. Pedro Menocal, grandson of a Cuban president, remembers riding the bus each morning as it approached the Goizueta family home--a fence-enclosed, colorfully ornamented rococo house with a courtly garden on a lot 175 feet long by 100 feet wide. As Roberto mounted the bus, his slicked-down hair smelled of violet water and alcohol. "He was always clean, always pressed, very quiet and friendly, but not a mama's boy," says Menocal. Like almost every boy at the school, Roberto often risked punishment from the strict Jesuit priests by stealing out of sight and sneaking a cigarette--the prelude to a lifelong habit of chain smoking.
remembers Roberto as a diligent and successful student, especially in the sciences. "He was always serious, but also very charming," Llorente recalls. But in some areas, Goizueta was less than a standout. His grammar was perfect, but his writing was not inspired. "He was just too cautious," Llorente says. Throughout his life, Goizueta took great pride in writing his own major speeches, and was known for meticulous precision in his use of language. But his caution both in writing and delivery made him a less-than-impressive speaker, and he was foreshadowed throughout most of his career by other more gifted communicators at Coke.
language before he went to preparatory school in the United States. His standard story was that he virtually knew no English before moving to Connecticut for a year of preparatory school after Belen, and that he learned the language by watching Hollywood movies. That does not quite square with the facts. Goizueta studied English at Belen, albeit with primary emphasis on grammar and the written language, not speaking. He was listed as an outstanding English student in his Belen yearbooks, and at summer camps he attended in the United States, he was exposed to the more colloquial use of the language. "He came as a boy to summer camps organized by the Jesuits in the United States. I think he spoke English well," says Llorente.
basketball, and baseball. He was by no means a gifted athlete. Basketball was his best sport, a fact throatily applauded by his dad. Father Llorente remembers Crispulo Goizueta attending almost every one of Roberto's basketball games, and making his presence known. "He was very fanatic, shouting all the time, telling Roberto what to do," Llorente recalls. "It embarrassed Roberto." Still, the priest observed that the father and son had an easy relationship and were quite comfortable in each other's company.
dog kennel Crispulo Goizueta operated on the outskirts of Havana. In fact, watching his father raise and sell dogs may have been the young Roberto's first real exposure to the marketplace at work. Universally among Cuban aristocrats, Crispulo was known for his boxers and was considered the country's best breeder of that strain of dog. Family friends recall Roberto watching attentively as his father tended to the kennel's fifteen to twenty caramel-colored dogs. Gustavo G. Godoy, today a popular radio personality among Cubans in Miami, recalls buying a boxer on Crispulo's advice after his Havana home was broken into in the mid-1950s. "His face glowed when his dogs were around him," Godoy says. The lesson for young Roberto was clear. His father succeeded with his dogs because he loved the work and loved the product of his labor. Although dogs may have seemed a frivolous pursuit to the uninformed, Crispulo Goizueta took great pride in his work, and did not rest until he was considered the very best at what he did.
Roberto adulterated his father's hobby by raising and showing Pembroke Welsh corgis--hardly the macho and rugged breed favored by his dad. One of Goizueta's dogs, Fizz, won best of breed at the renowned Westminster Kennel Club competition in 1996. "It's just the antithesis of a boxer," says Godoy, laughing. "I was very disappointed."
IF BELEN ACADEMY WAS GOOD FOR EXPOSING ITS STUDENTS TO AN intense education and spirited athletics, it also made a point of introducing the young boys to girls from the "right kind" of families. Such girls were known to attend Havana's two most prominent convent schools, Convent of the Sacred Heart and the Ursuline Sisters Academy. A young debutante, Olga Casteleiro, attended Sacred Heart. As part of a well-orchestrated courtship ritual of the Cuban upper class, Olga mixed socially with the young Roberto at school-sponsored functions and in activities of their social circle at the country club and yacht club.
cousins on her mother's side. At the family's recreational farm outside Havana, it was not unusual for prominent writers and businesspeople to mingle with Olga and her family. Still, says a friend from one of Cuba's wealthiest families, exposure to cultured and serious people did not seem to impress Olga and her cousins. "They were more interested in fashion shows, the league against cancer, and charity balls at the country club," says the family friend.
her lighthearted upbringing, those who knew Olguita over the years say she was serious and goal-oriented and viewed herself as a partner in her husband's career. She also was extremely private and unassuming, characteristics that matched her well with Roberto from the start. "Very unusual for a Cuban, Roberto was always rather closed-mouthed," says the family friend. "We're always talking about what we know and what we don't know. The fact that he was more serious than the norm in Havana society made him attractive to her." Olga's suspicions of Roberto's strong character were confirmed when Roberto was named Brigadier of Belen Academy during his senior year--the school's highest honor recognizing achievement in academics, leadership, and even sports. Before they both left Cuba in 1948 for preparatory school in the United States, there was an understanding between themselves and among their families that Olga and Roberto would be married.
ROBERTO EXPECTED TO ATTEND ONE OF THE BEST AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES. It was almost a birthright of bright students of his social class. His father had attended the University of Pennsylvania, and Roberto hoped also to attend an Ivy League school, or one of similar caliber. Despite his strong science background and outstanding performance at Belen, he felt he might not get into the best U.S. colleges. "I didn't know enough English to get into college in the United States," Goizueta would say. And if he did get in, he figured he might fail. Despite the exposure to English at Belen and during summer camp, Goizueta and his parents believed he could not succeed at college without a year of English preparation.
half-hour north of New Haven, Connecticut, and a world away from Belen. Among the East Coast literati, Cheshire was considered a second-tier prep school, a step below the truly elite schools such as Andover Academy and Deerfield Academy. The students were bright, the teachers were well trained, and the preparation was adequate, but Cheshire simply did not have a strong brand name--a concept perhaps more understandable to Goizueta as a career marketer of soda pop than as an 18-year-old preppie, getting ready to go to college. Along with its indifferent academic status, Cheshire had a poor reputation in sports. That circumstance was in no way helped when the soccer coach learned that the young Cuban on whom he had pinned his hopes could barely boot the ball. "We thought of Cheshire as being down on their luck," says Guido Calabresi, a product of Hopkins Academy who would become Goizueta's freshman roommate at Yale, dean of Yale's law school, and, today, a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals. "Cheshire had to make do by taking a large contingent of foreign students."
that Roberto Goizueta desperately needed: a movie theater. Belen had given Goizueta a bookish understanding of English, but he felt uncomfortable speaking aloud, and wanted to master colloquial speech before going on to college. To familiarize himself with English, Goizueta spent countless hours at the Cheshire Cinema, a single-screen movie house that had been in business since before the talkies came to town. He watched reel after reel of American movies, memorizing the dialogue, intonation, and phrasing. As the Cheshire Cinema screened Marlene Dietrich in A Foreign Affair, Laurence Olivier's Hamlet, Erroll Flynn in Adventures of Don Juan, and Judy Garland's In the Good Old Summertime, Goizueta would be in the theater, mimicking the actors on the silver screen. Adopting an all-American first name, he asked the students and teachers at Cheshire to call him "Bob" instead of Roberto. And while studying in his room at night, Goizueta spent hours with his dictionary, dutifully deciphering the works of T. S. Eliot and William Shakespeare.
class. For his success at Belen, the school had awarded him an ostentatious medal on a silk ribbon. At Cheshire, he received a more utilitarian and entirely appropriate gift, an English dictionary. It was one of his greatest treasures, and one of the items he most regretted leaving behind when he fled Cuba in 1960 after Castro's revolution. The more lasting result of his Cheshire preparatory work was the acceptance letters he received from some of the cream of American academia: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, California Institute of Technology, Princeton University, and Yale University. He chose Yale. He knew New Haven well because of its proximity to Cheshire and was impressed by the school's strength in his chosen field of chemical engineering.
FOR GOIZUETA, YALE PROVED TO BE A FIRST-TIME EXPERIENCE OF A different sort. It marked the only time in his academic career that he did not finish at the top of his class. But not for lack of trying. With his roommate Dick Cook, he routinely trudged to the chemistry lab to study. "Those guys invented the term grunts," recalls Fred Graham, a fellow member of Yale's Saybrook College. Cook's academic counselor transferred him into Goizueta's room after he nearly flunked out in his freshman year. Goizueta was chosen as a peer who would force Cook to study and whose work ethic might prove inspiring.
ability to lock himself in his room for five hours at a stretch, ignore the water fights and record players resonating through the hallways, and never leave his room until the studying was done. "He had learned to do that at the Jesuit school he attended," Cook recalled years later. "I'm certain that ability to concentrate, and to work at a high level of concentration for extended periods of time, served him well at Coke." Cook was most impressed during their junior year, when Goizueta registered for a course in metaphysics to fulfill an elective requirement. Cook and most of the chemical engineering students were taking a far simpler metallurgy class. The move proved to Cook that Goizueta had interests far beyond the narrow disciplines of engineering, and that he would not waste his time on a course that most of his peers enjoyed as a free pass en route to graduation.
Yale. "He was certainly in the top quarter of my class, but not a top student," says Raymond W. Southworth, who taught Goizueta's Introduction to Chemical Engineering course. "I would not have expected him to become chief executive of The Coca-Cola Company." Another professor in the five-person chemical engineering department at the time, Randolph H. Bretton, does not remember Goizueta at all. Goizueta earned academic honors only in his junior year, when he ranked in the top 15 percent of his class. Newspaper and magazine profiles over the years consistently claimed Goizueta finished tenth in his class at Yale, but the university's "class book" for his graduation year does not note any academic honor. The repetition of this false "fact" over the years helped build Goizueta's image as an overachieving man of purpose.
Goizueta's classmates. William F. Buckley, Jr., whose antiliberal screed Man and God at Yale was published during Goizueta's sophomore year, still lurked on campus as a teaching graduate student. "Individualism is dying at Yale, and without a fight," was one of Buckley's few cogent complaints. Connected politicos included Victor Batista, nephew of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, and John Bush, son of a Congressman and brother to a future president, George Bush. Timber scion Fred T. Weyerhauser was in Goizueta's class, along with Richard Frankie, the future chairman of the investment firm John Nuveen & Co. National political figures like President Dwight Eisenhower and democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson both spoke on campus, and exiled Russian revolutionary leader Alexander Kerinsky lectured about the rise of the Soviet Union.
climbing, or the issues of the day. Indeed, from this early age he proved to be individualistic, a person who pursued his own agenda and his own style both in social and academic pursuits--all habits he exhibited throughout his later career. This was unusual given the highly conformist atmosphere at Yale of the mid-1950s, a bastion of conformity from the sportcoats and ties that were prescribed dress to the ritualized social interaction on campus dominated by the clubs and fraternities that had influenced Yale life for decades. Goizueta stood out as an exception to the rule. "He was his own person at a time when kids were trying so hard to look a certain way, to be preppy, to conform," says Calabresi, his freshman roommate. Committed as he was to Olguita, Goizueta never dated another girl. He saw Olga at least every other weekend, either traveling to New York to visit her at Duchesne School, or bringing her to New Haven for a date on campus. Goizueta rarely attended campus parties. He did not join a social fraternity and was not invited to join any of the university's prestigious and very cliquish clubs.
Yale. He, Cook, and a third roommate, a husky Pennsylvanian named Paul Oshirak, relaxed in their room by singing along with the 45-rpm records of Broadway shows like Kiss Me Kate and Oklahoma. Oshirak nicknamed Goizueta "Deano," thinking he looked like the crooner Dean Martin, and Goizueta responded by christening Oshirak "Pablo" and Cook "Coo Coo." They smoked cigarettes together, and occasionally rode bicycles down to the beach outside of New Haven. Cook even was forced to emancipate Goizueta from a fistfight one night, as the two returned from a fraternity party at which they had had a few Scotch whiskeys too many. Goizueta shared all his college experiences with his father in almost daily telephone calls back home--a ritual Goizueta continued, time permitting, throughout his adult life. In moments of crisis, especially during the public outcry after the launch of New Coke in 1985, Crispulo Goizueta would serve as Goizueta's sounding board for major decisions, someone who could express unvarnished opinions with no hidden agenda.
Dick Cook at graduation in 1953 by richly thanking him for helping Roberto on the occasion of the fisticuffs after the drinking party. Still, for all their closeness as roommates and study partners, Cook and Goizueta spoke just once in 45 years after college, and never saw one another again. Of his college friends, Goizueta kept in sporadic contact only with Calabresi, and he never returned to Yale for a reunion. He later endowed an academic chair for multidisciplinary study of business and the humanities at Yale, but with his college career as with other chapters of his life, Goizueta preferred to bring down the curtain and move on.
WITH YALE BEHIND HIM, GOIZUETA WASTED NO TIME STARTING HIS career and his adult life. Moving back to Havana, the job at the family company was in hand. A more pressing matter was his impending marriage to Olguita. The young couple had told Father Llorente of their plans to marry in June of 1953. The priest knew Olga, for her social standing, for her charitable work with the poor and at medical clinics, and as a teacher of religion while she studied at Sacred Heart. Olga had always struck Llorente as "shy, elegant, and feminine. Also, she was more religious than Roberto." Llorente was thrilled when he heard the news. "I said, 'Excellent marriage,'" he recalls.
Yale, the young couple married in a festive ceremony at Havana's most elegant church, the Church of the Sacred Heart, which was designed after the cathedral at Lyon, France. It was one of the social events of the year in Havana, important enough that the newspaper Diario de La Marina listed 87 of the people in attendance by name, and called the celebration "one of the most brilliant of recent times." Olguita chose Roberto's sister Vivien as her maid of honor, and she and Roberto each were accompanied by 12 attendants. The music included "Ave Maria" and Grieg's "I Love Thee," a standard at Havana weddings of the time. And the newspaper noted, incorrectly, that Goizueta had graduated Yale "in chemical engineering with the highest honors and distinctions granted at the famous North American university." Even at that early stage, the mythmaking had begun.
LIFE HAD COMPLETELY CHANGED FOR THE YOUNG COUPLE BY THE time they celebrated their first anniversary. Olga was pregnant, and Roberto was about to leave his father's business and take the new job at Coke. But before Goizueta began work, his father had one last request. He wanted Roberto to buy shares of stock in Coca-Cola. "You shouldn't work for someone else, you should work for yourself," his father said. He suggested that Roberto should buy 100 shares of Coca-Cola, and lent him the $8,000 he would need for the purchase. The shares were placed in a custodial account in New York, where they remained until his death.
he started work. The day he walked into the Coca-Cola offices to apply for the job, he had run into an old friend from Belen Academy, Miguel Macias, and seemed to feel uncomfortable telling his friend he was applying for a job. Indeed, Goizueta felt his friends all thought him crazy, and many of them told him so, for leaving the family business. But within weeks, Macias and Goizueta were working together, rushing to open Coke's new bottling plant in Camaguey, an industrial town about 350 miles northeast of Havana.
corporate brass from Atlanta expected to fly in, Macias and Goizueta rushed to get the production line ready to roll. Goizueta supervised the final stages of preproduction while Macias oversaw installation of the new bottling conveyors. But the line kept breaking down. The two young managers worked all night, taking turns catching what sleep they could on sacks of petrified sugar waiting to be dissolved once the line was up and running. The line opened on time. To Macias, the experience showed him something about Goizueta's determination to get the job done, no matter what kind of effort it took, and an underlying humility that a rising young executive like Goizueta would work so hard with shirtsleeves rolled up deep into the night to do it. "Whenever I think of that experience, I am assured that the man who felt comfortable sleeping on sugar bags is also comfortable in any business environment, from the grass roots to chairman of the board," Macias said in later years. By any measure, Macias had a successful career at Coke, transferring first to Venezuela after he left Cuba and closing out his career as a vice president in the Australasian division, even though he did not keep pace with his compatriot from Havana.
to company headquarters and to the heights of Coke's corporate power. The occasion was an educational program Coke hosted for production employees, but it also provided Goizueta a glimpse of the culture shock he would feel years later when he moved his family to the fast-growing capital city of the New South. Riding in from the airport, he and Olga were struck by the slow, strange accent of the taxi driver. "How far to downtown?" Roberto asked. "Teeyen mayules," came the response. "Geez," Goizueta said in Spanish to his wife. "I wonder what he said." Atlanta struck the Goizuetas as a sleepy small town in contrast to the bustle and ambition of downtown Havana.
effort to make his mark, Goizueta did not skip the mundane details of his work. He was making progress, his domain spreading from one plant to all of Coke's five plants in the country, yet his job throughout his time in Cuba remained inescapably technical. When he presented his first professional paper as a Coca-Cola quality control expert in 1957, Goizueta deliberately strove to go beyond the narrow confines of the topic of his research and to demonstrate the broad thinking and reverence for the Coke heritage that would typify his communications throughout his career. The subject of his study: the battle to eradicate rusty rings from the necks of glass Coke bottles produced at the new Camaguey plant. "It would certainly be blameworthy if due to a faulty washing operation, salt deposits dim the many hours of labor that our ancestors devoted to produce and design such a unique bottle as ours," he wrote. And later, "What would happen if a person asks for a Coca-Cola after reading in one of our posters that Coca-Cola is pure and wholesome, and finds out that the bottle he is given is dirty if only on the outside? That consumer will certainly doubt that the contents of the bottle are pure." Goizueta already had developed a reverence for the product Coca-Cola that would drive him all his life, and he developed a method of removing the spots with an agent derived from, of all things, cane sugar.
BEFORE LONG, RUSTY RINGS WOULD BE THE LAST THING ON Goizueta's mind. In their place, Fidel Castro stepped to center stage. Days after Goizueta delivered his paper in May 1957, Castro's troops staged their first truly successful guerilla raid from Cuba's Sierra Maestre mountains. The battle of El Uvero became the first step in Castro's long but unyielding march toward the triumphant entry of Castro's troops into Havana on January 1, 1959. Goizueta may in fact have been suspicous of Castro almost from the start, as he claimed in press interviews. "It was obvious to us that Castro was communist, though not to The New York Times," Goizueta later claimed. If he really saw Castro that way from the start, he had astounding foresight. Interviews with dozens of Cubans with roots in Havana society indicate that they, like most of their countryfolk, were initially hopeful that Castro could reform the corruption of the Batista regime, reduce state-sponsored violence, and bring economic power to the masses.
Castro stormed Havana, on January 2, 1959, Olga went into labor with the couple's third child, but the Goizuetas could not rush to the hospital. Castro had forbidden the use of private cars on Havana's streets. In the chaos of the Cuban revolution, the nervous young couple waited several hours for an ambulance. While being driven to the hospital, they passed checkpoints and jeeps loaded with the menacing, bearded guerillas that enforced a capricious and sometimes vicious form of martial law on the streets of Havana.
Goizueta family's exclusive neighborhood was one of fear and apprehension. Armed guards randomly searched the houses near the Biltmore Country Club. Safety deposit boxes were confiscated. "They would decide they were going to take the first, fifth and seventh houses and search them. If you were in two, four and six, you were lucky," Goizueta recalled. "It was just harassment."
take control of a Coca-Cola plant, as retribution against bribes purportedly paid to the Batista regime--a technique Castro was just beginning to employ throughout industry. Goizueta did his best to hold his own against the repeated and unpredictable harassment. His first minor victory over the Castro regime came when he successfully resisted the new Cuban government's insistence that Coke use cooked sugar--rather than the caramel called for in the Coca-Cola recipe--to give Cuba's Coke its brown color. To persuade them sugar would not work, Goizueta mixed one batch with sugar and let them taste the awful result. As another measure of control, Castro's gendarmes checked his brief case one night, to make certain he was not secreting any important corporate documents.
move. In April of 1960, when Javier was just four months old, he shipped the baby and his siblings Robby and Olga, to live with Olguita's parents, who had already left Havana for Miami. It was still legal to leave the country, but Castro was already limiting how much money Cubans could take with them, in an effort to prevent them from fleeing. Work compelled Goizueta to stay in Cuba, but it was best for the children to leave. He and Olguita could move quickly that way when his work was done and the time was right. "We felt if we had to leave Cuba in a hurry, my wife and I could manage," he later said.
Coke's political intelligence staff that the situation in Cuba looked serious, and that the plants could be seized by Castro at any time. It was hardly a remarkable revelation, given the steep escalation of hostilities between Castro and the U.S. government during the early summer of 1960. On June 29, Castro seized a U.S. oil refinery after it refused to refine oil from the Soviet Union, and declared he would confiscate all U.S. property "down to the nails in their shoes" if the U.S. Congress reduced the sugar quota. Less than a week later, Congress acted, and President Eisenhower suspended all imports of Cuban sugar. In late August, the U.S. accused Castro of training guerillas to spread communist revolution throughout Latin America, and Castro in a September United Nations speech claimed the U.S. boycott was punishment for his land reforms and nationalization measures against U.S. monopolies.
months since Cuba had cheered Castro's triumphant march into Havana on New Year's Day in 1959. Not only had Castro turned their neighborhood into an armed camp, but many of their friends had already fled the country. The bulk of the early exodus from Cuba came from among their social peers, the upper-class Cubans, and the second wave that followed during the summer of 1960 included their professional cohorts--engineers and other career people whom Castro seemed most likely to detain if he decided to restrict export visas from Cuba.
Goizueta and the rest of Coke's managers in Cuba worked feverishly to accomplish what they could before the inevitable seizure occurred. Goizueta's penchant for disciplined, detailed work and long-range thinking served him well. Time was of the essence and there was no opportunity to recover any mistakes. The syrup manufacturing laboratory at the Havana plant, built in 1957, was the main technical headquarters for Coke's operations throughout the Caribbean, and Goizueta needed to effect a transition to another headquarters location, in the Bahamas, before Castro ultimately clamped down.
could leave: the rollout of the new lemon-lime soft drink Sprite throughout the Caribbean. It was Goizueta's job to make certain Havana produced enough syrup to meet Caribbean demand for the new colorless soda. He began the project in June, and finally finished it in early October. Finally, Roberto and Olguita were ready to take their own "vacation."
country after Castro's revolution ever came back. Many secreted out money, but some left with nothing. Roberto confided his plans to no one, but did make a broad hint to Macias when they saw each other one day in Havana. "I am going to go on vacation," Goizueta told Macias, and his friend immediately knew what he meant.
only $200 in their pocketbooks. They did not take any photographs or wedding presents, not even Goizueta's Yale diploma or the dictionary that was his trophy as valedictorian at Cheshire Academy. They left their Cuban nursemaid behind. As he left his house for the last time, Goizueta was filled with a sense of disbelief. He still hoped Castro would somehow fall from power, and Cuba would return to a capitalist economy. "It was always in the back of everyone's mind that this couldn't happen 90 miles outside the U.S.," he said.
could from Coke's records of its operations in Cuba. He feared they would be confiscated, and he might be arrested, if he tried to take them out of the country. Together Roberto and Olga climbed up the steps to the airplane, and left Cuba for good.
Table of Contents
Cuba, Castro, and Coke.
Flight to the Top.
"The Spanish Inquisition." A Break from the Past: Diet Coke and Columbia Pictures.
"Give Me Back My Coke!".
Changing the Script: The Bottler Spinoff and Escape from Hollywood.
"Always" a Great Shootout.
The Big Brand Machine.
The Games Roberto Played.
"It's Coca-Cola Heaven".
Epilogue: The Song at Church.
What People are Saying About This
"Perhaps no other corporate leader in modern times has so beautifully exemplified the American dream. He believe that, in America, all things are possible. He lived that dream. And because of his extraordinary leadership skills he helped thousands of others realize their dreams as well."
"Roberto was a giant of a man, a giant of American industry and a great competitor." -- Chairman, PepsiCo
"Roberto Goizueta set the standards for business leadership around the world and the legacy he leaves behind includes... a company that is part of our culture with an undisputed reputation for excellence." -- CEO of Eastman Kodak Co.