(FORTUNE Magazine) – THERE ARE ALL SORTS of ways to grade a chief executive. Look at his return on equity. Calculate his return on investment. Take quarterly note of his earnings growth. Rank him against his peers. Rank him against his industry.

Or judge him by the most fundamental measure of all--how much wealth he has created for his shareholders.

If it's the last point that you're really interested in, then the yardstick to use is market value added, or MVA, a calculation devised by the New York City consulting firm Stern Stewart. The calculation zeroes in on shareholder wealth by asking a very basic question: What is the difference between the cash that investors have put into a business over its lifetime and the amount they could get out of it today by selling their shares?

When big American companies are evaluated this way, the field is not crowded at the top. Two men--Roberto C. Goizueta, chairman and chief executive of Coca-Cola, and John F. Welch Jr., chairman and chief executive of General Electric--stand head and shoulders above the rest. Coca-Cola was No. 1 as of the end of 1994, with $61 billion in MVA; GE was No. 2, with $52 billion. No other company came close. Wal-Mart, in third place, had $35 billion in MVA; Merck, $32 billion; Microsoft, $30 billion. (For a list of the 200 biggest American companies ranked by MVA, see "Creating Stockholder Wealth.")

What MVA really measures is how efficiently the chief executive has been able to use the capital entrusted to him--how well he's been able to keep his eye on the ball. By that standard, Goizueta and Welch are genuine champions. Goizueta created nearly all of Coca-Cola's MVA--$59 billion--during his own tenure. Welch created all of GE's $52 billion MVA on his own watch.

What are the qualities that set them apart? "Both men have an ability to sort out the noise from the signal and then to drive just for the essence of what's important," says George M.C. Fisher, chairman and chief executive officer of Eastman Kodak, who knows both of them well. "A lot of executives can intellectualize the process, but these two can follow through."

Though they share a unique set of wealth-building skills, the two men couldn't be more different. One, the son of a wealthy Cuban sugar magnate, became an impoverished immigrant when, as a young adult, he left Cuba for Miami to escape Castro's orbit. He and his wife had $40 between them and 100 shares of Coca-Cola stock. The other, the son of a railroad conductor, was a hotheaded young ruffian who wanted to go to Dartmouth but couldn't.

Goizueta is aristocratic, formal, ever polite, always measured--a gentleman CEO who likes a nice predictable schedule and a certain sense of decorum, and never seems to take off his suit jacket. Welch is impulsive, captivatingly charming, still proud of his Animal House fraternity, most comfortable in his shirtsleeves. Goizueta has a deep and abiding respect for tradition; Welch has little use for it. Goizueta doesn't like open confrontation; Welch thrives on it. One is a technician; the other, a charismatic. One runs essentially a one-product company; the other, a conglomerate with a dozen businesses, nine of them big enough to be on the FORTUNE 500.

For Goizueta, the concept of shareholder wealth is almost an ideology. A video monitor at the entrance of the main building at Coca-Cola headquarters shows the stock price, updated several times a day. It is the first thing employees see each morning and the last thing they see when they go home at night.

For Welch, an avid athlete, business is the most absorbing game of all. The creation of wealth is how you keep score: It is the result of winning, which is what business is all about in the locker-room GE culture.

Yet there are uncanny similarities too. Both men are chemical engineers. Both were raised as Roman Catholics. They became chairman and chief executive officer of their companies exactly a month apart in the spring of 1981. Their birthdays are a day apart in November. Both inherited blue-chip corporations, then proceeded to navigate them through one of the most troubled times for blue chips. Both were plucked from relative obscurity to take the top jobs.

In some very fundamental ways, Goizueta and Welch did business similarly. They weren't distracted by outside events. They figured out what they needed to do. They told their employees. And then they did it--relentlessly--over the past 14 years. Their stories say something about ego, something about succession in a big bureaucracy; something about strategies. For Welch, getting the top job meant that the big game was beginning. For Goizueta, it was a chance to rebuild all that he'd lost. For both men, it was a chance to settle up with the past.

Wealth is a theme that has run through the lives of Goizueta and Welch in very different ways. Goizueta was born to it on November 18, 1931. His maternal grandfather, Marcelo Cantera, had emigrated to Cuba from Spain with little more than a high school education. But he was a hardworking and thrifty man, who would impress on his grandson the importance of cash. When the Depression hit Cuba, he had saved enough to acquire a sugar-refining business and some real estate, and then to build a mansion in Havana large enough for his extended family, Roberto's parents and their children. It was a tight community and a nurturing one. Roberto's paternal grandmother lived next door, and numerous cousins lived nearby.

And it was a childhood rich in culture, for the clan had its share of Renaissance men. Roberto's father, Crispulo Goizueta, attended the University of Pennsylvania and worked as an architect before returning to take over and add to the family holdings. After he retired, Marcelo wrote verses (he wouldn't permit them to be called poetry) in elegant handwriting, and "held court" in an office off the living room, with his young grandson at his knee. "My grandfather had a saying for everything," recalls Roberto, who would grow up to run his company by many of the Spanish proverbs his grandfather had taught him.

FOR ROBERTO, it was an easy road to adulthood. He took a schoolbus to the Belen School, a nearby Jesuit institution. Then for a year he attended Cheshire Academy, a private secondary school in Connecticut, to learn English. He moved on to Yale University, his way smoothed both by outstanding performance and by connections at Cheshire. He majored in chemical engineering, a discipline he thought would be helpful when, someday, he would take over the family business.

In some ways it was too easy. When Goizueta returned home to work for his father, he was restless. "I had no compass. Everything was perfect. It was very difficult to do anything wrong," he recalls. He wanted to strike out on his own. Although he could easily have used his family connections, he answered a blind ad in the newspaper, landing a job as an entry-level chemist at the Coca-Cola Co. in Havana. He reported for duty on July 4, 1954. "It was going to be a temporary thing for me, $500 a month," he recalls. "My friends thought I was absolutely crazy."

It turned out to be perhaps the smartest move he ever made. After Fidel Castro took over in 1959, it became clear that Castro intended to take over both the Goizueta family enterprise and Coca-Cola's Cuban operations. So in 1960 the Goizueta family scattered, some to Mexico and others to Miami. Roberto, his wife, Olga Casteleiro, their three children, and a nursemaid shared a motel room for a month on Miami's Venetian Causeway. He counts himself lucky; Coca-Cola gave him a job in a new Miami office, and he had his 100 shares, kept in a bank in New York. "You cannot explain that experience to any person," he says. "That was ten times more important than anything else in my life. It was a shocker. All of a sudden you don't own anything, except the stock. One hundred shares. That's the only thing I had. It brings a sense of humility. It builds a feeling of not much regard for material things."

JACK WELCH came from the other side of the tracks in the small, gritty city of Salem, Massachusetts. He was born on November 19, 1935, four years and one day after Goizueta, into much different circumstances. His father, John Sr., was a conductor for the Boston & Maine Railroad and away much of the time; it was his mother, Grace, who played the most powerful role in his life. She raised him, doted on him, pushed him. "Don't get me started on my mother; she's my whole game," he says.

It was a simple life, in a little gray stucco house on Lovett Street. Jack was an only child; his extended family was his neighborhood. And it was filled with "kids that didn't have anything. You were lucky if you had food on the table," recalls Lawrence McIntire, a childhood friend who is now the superintendent of parks and recreation in Salem. Welch and another pal, Sam Zoll, would caddy at the Kernwood Country Club, picking up $1.25 for 18 holes, which they would then turn over to their parents, who usually allowed them to keep a quarter.

The kids did have one thing that many of them now point to as being a major factor in shaping their success: an excavated gravel pit turned into a makeshift park, called the "Pit," a Darwinian laboratory of sorts in which Welch and his buddies learned how to win, lose, fight, compromise, and charm. There was no recreation department funding, certainly no Little League. So the kids of north Salem built their own basketball court and made a hockey rink from the snow-packed swath left by a snowplow. The older, bigger kids played first; only when they got tired did the younger, smaller ones get a turn. Fistfights were common. "We were all jocks of sorts. I mean, we played ball countless hours, played street hockey all night. That was everything. Sports were everything," Welch recalls.

"We didn't have parental development and supervision, uniforms and all that," says Zoll, who is now the chief justice of the district court of Massachusetts. "Inter-city and playing teams from other cities was left to your own creativity." In that milieu, Welch made a name for himself. He put the games together and figured out how the kids would get there and home. He became known as a fearless negotiator who, through aggressiveness and charisma, could talk the bigger kids into sharing the basketball court. He was a ferocious and judgmental competitor. His teammates "always knew where they stood," recalls one.

McIntire says that among the kids from that neighborhood, "there is a group of about 15 guys who made out pretty well. A lot of us didn't go to college. We just worked hard and ended up with positions. Jack and all of us grew up in that very competitive atmosphere, so when we went out into the world, we said, 'Hey, we can do anything. Nothing can be as tough as going to the Pit.' "

Welch went to Pickering Elementary and then on to Salem High School, where he was involved in practically everything, but was perhaps best known for sports. He was captain of the hockey team and golf team. His class voted him the "most talkative and noisiest boy." In his high school literary magazine, he listed his "repressed desire: to make a million."

If, as a young adult, Goizueta was stifled by his family connections, Welch had the opposite problem. He and two of his close friends from Salem High were nominated to receive Navy ROTC scholarships that would provide full room, board, and tuition to college. Welch's friends won them, and got to go to Tufts and Columbia. Welch didn't. It was a disappointment. "I don't know what my problem was. I didn't know enough people. I can remember my father calling our Congressman and things like that. He didn't really know how to do it very well," he recalls. Welch ended up at the University of Massachusetts, "which at the time didn't have a unique reputation by any means. It was a state school and used to be called Mass Aggie," he says.

His mother wanted him to be a priest or a doctor. He wanted to be a "great hockey player," but he wasn't fast enough. He settled on engineering "because we only had one person in our whole family that was at all educated beyond high school," he recalls. "He was called an engineer, and he worked at a power plant. So I went to engineering school."

At college he had a ball, the only engineer in a wild jock fraternity, and still he managed to graduate with honors. "We were on scholastic ban all the time. We drank more beer and had more fights than anybody there. And we'd play cards all night," he says. "And I had great grades." He went on to graduate school at the University of Illinois, got a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, and then, out of three job offers, chose to go to work for General Electric in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. "It was in Massachusetts, where I came from, so it was like going home in a way. That may sound ridiculous, but in those days that was kind of important."

For both Goizueta and Welch, the road to the top was anything but conventional. After emigrating to Miami, Goizueta spent most of his corporate life in the technical side of the business. His accomplishments there were impressive, and his integrity was respected. But in a company where people talk about having Coca-Cola in their veins, he never ran a soft drink operating division. Although he became executive vice president in May 1975, and was later given responsibility for the company's administrative, external affairs, legal, and technical divisions, in the horse race set up by his predecessor, J. Paul Austin, he was still considered the darkest horse.

What the outside world couldn't see was the strong bond Goizueta had forged with Robert W. Woodruff, who had run the company for decades and was still referred to as "the Boss." Woodruff frequently invited him to lunch, and Goizueta respectfully attended what he calls those "command performances." On his way home after work, he would visit Woodruff to chat, much the way he had sat with his grandfather many years before. He had the kind of modesty and humility that the courtly Woodruff surely respected. "I never set a goal to be this or that. I always believed that if you could do the best job you can, somebody will notice it sooner or later. You hope it will be sooner," Goizueta says. Donald R. Keough, Coca-Cola's former president and chief operating officer, says, "Mr. Woodruff trusted him and admired his integrity and saw in him a fundamental toughness." Woodruff also must have appreciated Goizueta's fundamental respect for tradition and decorum; for if Coca-Cola was to be changed, it would have to be changed very carefully.

There was nothing especially subtle or careful about Jack Welch, on the other hand. When General Electric's famous management-succession machine first cranked up and delivered to Reginald H. Jones a list of some 30-odd candidates in 1975, Welch's name wasn't on it. He was young. He was, Jones says, "the least typical GE guy. Definitely a maverick in his style." At GE, you weren't anybody unless you were part of the "electrical ring"--the businesses that were part of Thomas Edison's direct legacy. Welch had been hired in a little bastard outpost of the company called the Chemical Development Organization, charged with developing new chemical businesses. "We had a Green Beret, almost SWAT team mentality," recalls Reuben Gutoff, who was Welch's boss at GE for 12 years. The enemies were not just outside competitors but the GE bureaucracy too. "We talked a lot about that--the bureaucracy-speak, the bureaucracy babble. We had met the enemy, and it was us."

If Goizueta was a good corporate soldier, Welch was a rebel. Rather than entertain GE customers at Palm Beach, Florida, he would take them to Lake Placid, New York, organizing ice hockey games and ski races, most of which he won. He argued against the bonus system, which included a high percentage of deferred stock; with four children, he needed income. At one point he told Jones: "It's golden handcuffs. It's imprisonment." He resisted moving to the corporate headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut, because he wanted no part of the bureaucracy, and he got away with it because he delivered. But Jones finally prevailed: "I told him he had to get out of being a hick up in Massachusetts, running his own little bailiwick, with everybody genuflecting to him; that if he wanted to amount to something, he had better get down here where the real competition was going on."

GOIZUETA became chairman and chief executive of Coke on March 1, 1981. Welch assumed the same posts at GE exactly one month later. The coincidence was a kind of high-water mark in succession planning. As Gutoff puts it, "I think people who come up from the nonmainstream route are not so captured by the folklore, the mystique, the baggage. They are more likely to be able to tell that the emperor has no clothes. It's one thing to have a Lou Gerstner come in to fix an IBM. But if you can get an insider with an outsider's point of view, you get the best of both worlds."

Then as now, Coca-Cola and General Electric were two vastly different worlds. Coca-Cola was a Southern soft drink company with an identity crisis. For nearly 100 years, it had sold essentially two things: the fountain drink made with the syrup that Atlanta pharmacist John Styth Pemberton had concocted, and that soft drink's image. But with soft drinks flagging, Coca-Cola had become paralyzed and self-conscious.

General Electric, northern and industrial, had become smug. Born in 1892 as the offspring of a merger of two electric companies--one of them Thomas Edison's--it had tried to be all things electrical, from toasters and hair dryers to jet engines, many of them tough, cyclical, low-margin businesses. It had gotten so big, bureaucratic, and diversified that it was blissfully insulated from the threats of global competition and changing technology.

Despite the differences, Welch and Goizueta perceived their jobs in surprisingly similar fashion: to come up with some formula that would get them into the right businesses and to spur their tradition-bound bureaucracies to accept change. In Atlanta, Goizueta began to gather data. In September 1980, as president and chief operating officer, he had met with his executives for business planning sessions, and what had traditionally been a series of presentations became a fact-finding mission for Goizueta. Just the fact that he was asking questions was such a shock to the culture that it became known as the Spanish Inquisition.

But it was clear to Goizueta that things had to change. His immediate predecessor, J. Paul Austin, had been ill. Coke management, along with the rest of the world, it seemed, had lost faith in the soft drink business. Business Week magazine ran a cover story on "The Graying of the Soft Drink Industry," warning that shifting demographics spelled doom for soda pop. Wall Street analysts were bearish. M. Douglas Ivester, now Coke's president and chief operating officer, recalls one of them insisting, "I don't care what you say, your company can only grow at 3% a year."

The business was a mess. The domestic bottlers had a stranglehold; many had contracts that had assured them not only fixed prices but ownership in perpetuity. Worse yet, Coca-Cola had been losing market share, bit by bit, for nearly two decades. But the company, afraid of doing anything that might hurt the trademark, was paralyzed. "Coke had been a single thing in a single package, like an egg. That's Coke," recalls Keough, the former COO. "When it came to the trademark, there was always a tentativeness. What are people going to think?" So besides trying to fix soft drinks, Austin's management had acquired what had come to be known as "the supporting cast": wine, coffee, tea, plastics businesses--even a division that made steam generators and industrial boilers.

Goizueta set to work looking for a way to impose order. Even before he got the job, he came up with a two-page, double-spaced document, simple as an egg and dry as dust, titled "The Job of the Chief Executive Officer." It outlined, among other things, what he could delegate and what he couldn't. He also developed a mission statement that laid out (forgive us, Lou Gerstner) his vision for the company, which he would update every few years.

And early on in his tenure, he developed what has come to be known as gospel to almost everybody who works at Coca-Cola: that the name of the game is creating wealth for what he calls "shareowners," and that the key is efficient allocation of capital. The way to accomplish this, Goizueta says, is to employ one simple little formula that has now been all gussied up and given a fancy name that consultants sell for lots of money. As Goizueta puts it, "You borrow money at a certain rate and invest it at a higher rate and pocket the difference. It is simple. It is the essence of banking." The theory, which essentially amounts to economic value added, or EVA, is one he didn't learn from the consultants. He learned it from his grandfather, who used to say: "I am a great believer in cash flow. Earnings is a man-made convention, but cash is cash. The larger the company is, the less it understands cash flow. The smaller the business, the better it understands cash flow..." and so on.

As Keough puts it, "Roberto is a person who thought like an owner. He wasn't a hired hand. His family were owners. He had tremendous pride in ownership. That was very important to him."

After developing the formula, Goizueta followed through. He got rid of the companies that didn't meet his returns. He resisted the temptation to get into the cable and pharmaceutical businesses. He renewed the company's commitment to soft drinks--the introduction of Diet Coke rejuvenated the business. He did buy Columbia Pictures, not to hedge his bets, he says, but to shore up earnings until he could get the soft drink problems straightened out. And he introduced New Coke.

The latter two moves only served to reinforce his commitment to soft drinks. "I don't like surprises. Even good. He who can surprise me with good news can surprise me with bad," Goizueta is fond of saying. And the movie business was filled with surprises. When Goizueta and Keough previewed Ghostbusters, they thought it was silly. "That's how much we know about picking hits," says Keough.

New Coke also pointed Goizueta back to Coca-Cola's roots. For a man who doesn't like surprises, for a company scared to death to monkey with its trademark, it was the crucible. Ronald L. Kuehn, chairman and chief executive officer of Sonat Inc., spent time with Goizueta during the backlash. "He was more serious than usual. He was obviously very intense. He didn't like it at all that Coke might have made a faux pas," Kuehn recalls. But nobody involved ever saw him lose his temper. Goizueta recalls walking on a beach at Sea Island, Georgia, with his father, Crispulo, in May 1985. "Dad was upset. I said 'Dad, you have to have faith.' "

The experience had huge significance for him. "I realized what I should have before," he says. "That this was a most unique company with a most unique product. We have a product that people have an unusual attachment to. I had never felt so bullish about it." From that point on, says Anthony Adams, a professor and consultant who has observed Coca-Cola from both inside and outside the company, "it was as if a light bulb went on. Aha! This is the essence of what we own," says Adams. "From that point on, Roberto has reduced the company basically to its trademark, and the returns are so astronomical as to be off the boards. It just absolutely added a jet engine to their performance."

IF GOIZUETA'S APPROACH to the creation of wealth was cerebral, Welch's was primal. He had worked in businesses that were good and businesses that were bad, and he knew which he preferred. While the old darlings of GE had included businesses (like housewares) that supposedly endeared the company to consumers, Welch's darlings were the winners: what would come to be known as the "invest and grow" businesses like plastics, medical supplies, NBC.

To him, the whole notion of wealth creation was not an ideology but the game itself. It was pure rules of the Pit. The strong survive; the big, the fast, get to play. The more you win, the more wealth you create. And the first and most obvious rule: "Don't play with businesses that can't win," he says. "Businesses that are No. 3, No. 5 in their market--Christ couldn't fix those businesses. They're going to lose anyway."

So a year after Goizueta's Spanish Inquisition, Welch gathered his executives together to lay out his formula. Businesses had to be No. 1 or No. 2 in their global marketplace. If they weren't, he told them, we will fix you, sell you, or close you.

If Goizueta, ever respectful of the past, worked to effect change without causing too many ripples at Coke, Welch created a tidal wave. Just like a coach trading his players, he began bailing out of the businesses he didn't think were going to strengthen his hand. Tradition didn't matter; winning did. In one 12-month period, he unloaded both housewares and Utah International, a mining subsidiary Jones had acquired just eight years earlier in what had been celebrated as the biggest U.S. merger ever. Within another 12-month period, he bought RCA and Kidder Peabody. Although GE's strategic planning process, complete with 400 strategic planners at headquarters, had become the darling of the B-school set, he dismantled it. By 1988 he had bought and sold scores of companies and reduced his work force by 100,000.

There is in almost every aspect of GE management a heavy element of competition. John Opie, vice chairman of GE, prepares for every meeting the same way he'd psych up to run the 440 or to play football. "You go in pumped up. You go in ready for combat," he says. And prepared to take a certain amount of heat. If Welch doesn't like an acquisition proposal, "he might say, 'You're crazy, that's too much money; not even close. Go get it for half.' You'd better have a thick skin, or when you come out, you will be a hurting person."

Welch has organized his management much the same way he used to organize ball games. Each quarter he gathers his top executives at the leadership development center in Crotonville, New York. Everybody knows the company initiatives: to increase such things as productivity, inventory turns, quality, working capital, customer satisfaction, and other goals Welch has set. And by the end of the sessions, everybody knows where each division stands. "Everybody wants to be at the top," says Robert L. Nardelli, president and chief executive officer of GE Transportation Systems. Being at the bottom is a humbling experience. "When somebody is floundering, there is a little bit of a Quaker shunning; the guy's not so popular at the coffee breaks," says Paul Van Orden, executive in residence at the Columbia business school and a former GE executive. "Jack has an awful lot of very talented people running those businesses. By rubbing them together, it can be very effective."

The GE approach clearly has its hazards. Welch admits that it is impossible to know everything about each of his businesses. "I don't know what color the refrigerator is or how it all works, but generally speaking, we know what the higher issues's sort of a smell, a scent, a trust in the people." That may have contributed to the Kidder Peabody fiasco last year, in which GE was forced to take a $210 million charge against earnings after Kidder trader Joseph Jett allegedly created $350 million in phantom profits. If Goizueta kept his cool through New Coke, Welch lost it over Kidder. "He yelled, and I yelled, and people yelled back," recalls Dennis D. Dammerman, senior vice president for finance. "Were any of us calm for the whole weekend? No, you would've thought we were weird if we had been."

While Welch roiled GE with a macho style and massive changes, Goizueta toiled away in the Tower in Atlanta, quietly, relentlessly, reducing the company to its trademark. Together with Ivester, then Coke's chief financial officer, he pulled off a rapid series of moves in the middle to late Eighties that put his stamp on the company. They got out of the movie business at a price so high that it rendered moot any questions about how well they had managed it. They bought back stock at prices that seemed high at the time but which, in retrospect, were bargains. They revamped Coke's pay incentive plan, making millionaires out of even lower-level managers who succeeded at creating wealth for shareholders. And they let go of a Triple-A debt rating "that was like a university diploma to hang on the wall," says Goizueta, who borrowed money that could be invested in the higher-return soft drink business.

They poured money into overseas markets. And they worked assiduously to untangle the worldwide bottler problems. In most cases, instead of buying and owning their bottlers outright, they would take enough of a stake to be able to influence the business without having to burden their balance sheet. That way, "they were able to control the bottling situation without all the concomitant capital requirements," says Warren Buffett, a board member whose company is a major shareholder. "They were able to cycle money through when it was needed and then to get out." Coke even unloaded Minute Maid's capital-intensive orange groves last year, reducing its food business to what Goizueta calls "an internal flavor house" for the soft drink business. "He believed in the product," Buffett concludes.

To this day, Goizueta keeps his mission statement in the middle drawer of his desk. In the top left-hand drawer he keeps a simple chart comparing the financial characteristics of the businesses Coke has owned. He is proud of the fact that he's been so consistent.

With Goizueta so monomaniacally focused, there's no such thing as a casual conversation about soft drinks. Ex-GE chief Reg Jones once ran into him at a business event, where his wife, Grace, a diet soda drinker, mentioned that she was disappointed in Diet Coke's uneven quality. (Early on in its commercial use, the sweetener aspartame would start tasting funny if it sat on the shelf too long.) "His eyes got wide and his ears opened up, and for the next 30 minutes we were subjected to an explanation of aspartame, its pros and cons and all the problems," Jones recalls. Several days later they received a three-page follow-up letter from Goizueta. Not long after that came phone calls from managers at two of their clubs saying, "Coca-Cola has had their people crawling all over, looking at the inventory." Then followed another letter from Goizueta, explaining that the inventory had not been handled properly, but that the situation had been taken care of. "You can't get more intense," says Jones.

Suffice it to say that Welch doesn't take quite the same deferential approach to customer-service matters. Henry Kissinger and Welch are good friends. But when Nancy Kissinger called once to see if he could help her out with a broken appliance, he cracked wise: "What do you think I am, an appliance repairman?" (Welch did take care of it.)

Nor, in a miscellany of other style matters, do Welch and Goizueta bear much resemblance. GE's chief owns three homes; Coke's chief has rented the same vacation place at Sea Island for 20 years. (Goizueta did finally move into a big house in Atlanta, but only, he insists, to make room for grandchildren.) Goizueta says that more than 99% of his personal wealth is tied up in Coca-Cola stock. Welch spends free time tromping over assorted golf courses, including Augusta National, where he's a member. Goizueta's idea of a good weekend outing is taking in a Welsh corgi dog show. Welch is not a car buff; Goizueta loves them. One of his strongest outside interests is sitting on the board of Ford Motor Co. "I'm a frustrated auto designer, I am," he says. Ford board members get to test-drive "evaluation" cars, and Goizueta is about to receive a new Jaguar. "I can't wait," he says.

Yet the two have in common a relentless focus and a remarkable rudder of consistency. They have developed game plans, and they have stuck with them. Goizueta set out to remove all distractions except his highest-return business; Welch built a complex empire in which the cyclical parts complemented one another, managers spurred one another on, and the result was an enterprise grander than the sum of its parts.

BOTH WELCH and Goizueta are spending the home stretches of their tenures focused less on external adventures than on consolidating their gains. Opposites in so many other respects, they are once again singing off the same page when it comes to trying to break down bureaucracy, speed up decision-making, and keep their respective corporate revolutions going.

At GE, Welch is feverishly pushing for speed and productivity with all sorts of New Age business ideas: "boundarylessness," "workouts," "stretch targets," and the rest. He sets very high standards--"Looney Tunes stuff that he has no right to ask," says Steven Kerr, GE's vice president for corporate leadership development, who frequently watches Welch addressing the troops at the company's training center. But he is so charismatic, Kerr says, that it often works. "They get so energized. They don't know what part they are going to play, but they are damned well going to help him do whatever he asks," he says. At the end of a speech, Kerr says, Welch frequently tells the group: "This is the message. Go home and tell your people."

At Coca-Cola, of course, the effort is a bit more understated. "Today we are not finished. There is much to do," Goizueta says. "We are blessed in that we don't have to look outside our core business. But we have to do the things we do better, more efficiently from a cost point of view, more effectively from an impact point of view."

To that end, he is also encouraging speedier decision-making on every front. He wants to keep pushing hard into emerging markets like China and India, and to keep improving the company's marketing effort. "Five years ago, if I had said we were underskilled marketers, nobody would have believed me," he says. But too much of the company's marketing effort was directed at advertising, he says, and not enough at brand strategy or packaging. So Coca-Cola hired hundreds of new marketers and has been taking a more holistic approach to the discipline. Goizueta is constantly nudging a culture that is still a bit queasy about taking risks. At a worldwide gathering of Coca-Cola's quality-assurance staff in Palm Beach in October, one in the group expressed concern about all the change. "Don't wrap the flag of Coca-Cola around you to prevent change from taking place," Goizueta said gently. "It is extremely important that you show some insensitivity to your past in order to show the proper respect for the future."

If there is a lesson in all this, sum it up this way: For management--unlike, say, for Coca-Cola--there is no secret formula. But as these extraordinary opposites reveal, there are definitely essential ingredients.

Reporter Associate Joe McGowan