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Leadership is “all about convincing and motivating a group of people ... to do things they would not normally do in order to win,” Coca-Cola Enterprises Chairman and CEO John Brock told Kellogg students recently.

Coca-Cola Enterprises Chairman and CEO John Brock

Moving beyond management

In a talk to Kellogg students, Coca-Cola Enterprises Chairman and CEO John Brock makes the case for leadership — and optimism

By Chris Serb

6/18/2009 - "The world is full of managers, and we need managers,” Coca-Cola Enterprises chairman and CEO John Brock said during his recent visit to Kellogg. “But the world is not full of leaders, and we need leaders too.”

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  Coca-Cola Enterprises chairman and CEO John Brock
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These were fitting words for Brock’s audience on June 1, when he appeared at the Jacobs Center in the final installment of the Business Leadership Club’s 2008-2009 speaker series. Before a standing-room only crowd of some 300 students, Brock peppered his talk with humor as he spoke on three main themes: the events that shaped his own career, the nature of leadership, and reasons for optimism in the midst of recession.

Though Brock has held CEO positions at both Coca-Cola Enterprises and giant beer brewer Inbev, he cited three much-earlier moves as pivotal to his current success. In the 1980s, after 10 years in product development at Procter & Gamble, he was recruited to run technology operations at Cadbury Schweppes.

“What Cadbury Schweppes offered was a much smaller company, but a much wider area,” Brock said. “I had to deal with procurement, with production planning, with engineering, all the way through. From a career standpoint, it was a big decision.”

Brock also named two later moves at Cadbury Schweppes as crucial: In 1990, he assumed presidency of the international beverage division, and in 2000, he moved to London to become the company’s COO. “These moves took me out of my comfort zone, and [Brock’s wife] Mary and I had to give them a lot of thought,” Brock says. “But at any of those forks in the road, if we had gone a different way, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

For the bulk of his presentation, Brock focused on leadership. “Leadership is all about someone who is remarkably good at convincing and motivating a group of people to go off and work toward a common goal, and do things they would not normally do in order to win,” Brock said.

Brock further discussed various traits that distinguish leaders from managers, and moved on to a discussion of five hallmarks of what great leaders do:
  • They articulate a clear and compelling vision 
  • They manage with empathy, honesty and visibility 
  • They communicate frequently, candidly and informally 
  • They demonstrate high standards of behavior — they “walk the talk” 
  • They encourage and reward positive behaviors

Finally, Brock concluded his talk by stating his case for optimism.
“The world is in a fair amount of chaos — $35 trillion worth of wealth has evaporated in the last 18 months, and other problems go way beyond the economic situation that you will face as graduates either this year or next,” he said.

Brock went on to cite three factors that reinforce his own sense of optimism: The continuing strides made in innovation and technology, the perseverance of capitalism, and the innate desire of individuals to work hard to achieve and win as they pursue their own happiness.
“Our business is a leading indicator of what’s going on in the country,” Brock said. “When people wouldn’t spend $1.39 at the gas station for a bottle of Coke or Dasani six weeks ago but they will today, that’s a good sign that we’re starting to get back on the right track.”