December 10 2007: 5:34 PM EST
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New Coke CEO's magic moment

Kent's key test came when the fall of the Berlin Wall created new opportunities for Coke.

By Patricia Sellers, editor at large

Coke's next CEO, Muhtar Kent

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Every great leader has a crucible - a critical moment that will either make or break a career. For Muhtar Kent, who has emerged as the next CEO of Coca-Cola, that key test came nearly two decades ago when the Berlin Wall fell and major markets suddenly opened for Western-based businesses.

Kent was a hotshot international operator working for Neville Isdell, whom he is now, at 55, positioned to succeed. To get a glimpse of what made Kent a great leader, it's worth looking back at what Fortune said about him at the time.

This is an excerpt from "The World's Best Brand," a May 31, 1993 cover story by former Fortune managing editor John Huey, who is now Time Inc.'s editor-in-chief:

... Muhtar Kent - a hard-charging Turk who, under Isdell, oversees a territory of 21 countries between the Alps and Himalayas inhabited by a quarter of a billion potential Coke drinkers - is off to Sofia, Bulgaria, and possibly on to Albania to stir up some per capitas. Right now Isdell and Kent are clearly among the most golden of the company's golden boys. An independent market survey showed that during last year's fourth quarter Coke had taken the market share lead in every Eastern European country, a region where Pepsi basically held exclusive rights under the communist regimes. For the year, Pepsi still maintained leads in several countries. Coke strategists can barely contain their excitement over Muhtar Kent's territory, mostly because per capitas have grown from 20 to 31 in just two years. By 2000, he projects with relish, per capita will reach 71. In Hungary today per capita is already 83, close to the per capita eight years ago in Austria, which is now more than 150. Coke hopes the Czech Republic falls right into this line of growth. The model can't, of course, anticipate instability in such places as Bosnia-Herzegovina. [CEO Roberto] Goizueta believes the sophistication and progress he sees on this trip underscore a major change: "We used to be an American company with a large international business," he says. "Now we are a large international company with a sizable American business."

Fifteen years and several CEOs later, Coke (Charts, Fortune 500) has lost a lot of its swagger. But Kent's aggressive action in those important markets has paid off. Annual per-capita consumption of Coke products there have boomed - from 23 to 83 eight-ounce servings in Poland, from 104 to 200 in Hungary, from two to 62 in Russia. Coke still leads Pepsi in these markets. Now as the new CEO, Kent just needs to get people drinking that much Coke all around the world. To top of page

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