BOOK REVIEW: “Inside Coca Cola” by Neville Isdell with David Beasley (2011)

Key words
Coca cola, bottling plant, marketing, soft drinks industry, Pepsi

Lovers of the TV series Friends will be familiar with the expression “OH…MY…GOD!” Forgive me for such a blasphemous outburst, but I can find no other expression that conveys just how awful this book is.

This is a great shame. Coca Cola is a business icon. In a world where 80% of the products we use today did not exist ten years ago, the drink has grown over no less than 13 decades. The title of the book then sounds so deliciously enticing. How could you resist the chance to understand the inner workings and the strategy of such a powerful and long lasting corporation? What the reader gets instead from Mr. Isdell, is 240 pages of self-infatuated monologue around the generic theme of “Me, myself and I.” This book is the literary equivalent of every teenager’s weekend nightmare i.e. being forced to visit Granddad for Sunday lunch and then having to listen politely for several hours of him droning on about how he saved the world.

Coca-Cola is the world’s second most recognized term, trailing only “OK”

Power puts people into ivory towers. There is a tendency to forget the real world and how most people live. Sadly, Mr. Isdell seems to have gone willingly in this social prison. How else could you possibly explain his account of arriving in the Philippines?

“Riding into Manila from the airport, Pamela (his wife) was appalled at the country’s abject poverty. The road, unfortunately, ran adjacent to a horrible slum….She felt better as we checked into the Peninsula Hotel and later when we had dinner in the Champagne Room of the old Manila Hotel.”

No doubt she did. There is nothing quite like a glass of Dom Perignon to take away that awful smell of poor people! Unfortunately, with power and wealth comes responsibility, or discretion at the very least. Mr. Isdell goes on by describing the family drama of buying a Mercedes 280 SLC and then realizing it was a car often used by high class escort girls. You might want to have the Kleenex ready just in case you are crying too much for the poor suffering family.

“This was business war and the enemy was dressed in blue”

Indeed, no one can accuse the former CEO of neglecting to mention those that shared his personal life. Pamela is thanked for her “amazing skill set that contributed greatly to my career advancement over the years.” The expression “Good little woman” and a patronizing pat on the head would have been a nice addition to her. We also learn of every school change for their daughter (fascinating!) Even the dog gets a few mentions, though sadly its contribution to the advancement of Mr. Neville is not recorded for posterity. The only thing the reader doesn’t learn much about is the organization and the strategy of the Coca Cola Corporation.

The reader is even treated to a “hilarious” (!!) story of Mr. Isdell’s night out to a strip club in Manilla in the company of Imelda Marcos. Most people would have taken out a court injunction to stop this information getting out. Mr. Isdell actually boasts about it!

Even when Mr. Isdell does deal with some buisiness issues the reader is left wanting. The need to spend money on marketing comes back like a mantra throughout the book. Given all the fact that Coke was one of the first “marketed” products, some of the campaigns that have been done over the years and even its influence over the our modern day image of Father Christmas, this subject could have been fascinated. Yet, no details of any type of marketing are given.

“Inside Coca Cola” had the potential to be a great book. The company faired quite well under Mr.Isdell’s watch. Clearly, being a good CEO and a good writer require two different skill sets. If you really want to know more about the company, 10 minutes on wikipedia will give you more information than this book. You can spend your 20 euros drinking on the product itself.

Some keys facts:

  • Coca-Cola is sold in all but three countries in the world: North Korea, Cuba and Myanmar.
  • Coca-Cola is the world’s second most recognized term, trailing only “OK”.

Interesting quotes from the book:

  • “I have a belief system that when the Good Lord created the world, he created Coke one and Pepsi number two.” (What can I say?! Judge for yourself!)
  • “This was business war and the enemy was dressed in blue.” (i.e. Pepsi! Again, no comment!)

 Coca Cola Pepsi  Business School  Grenoble EM  International Affairs   Higher Education   ESC Grenoble   Strategy  Blog  Global Ed   Graduate Business School    Mark Thomas

See also:

Other Book Reviews

Climbing the corporate ladder ‘Inside Coca-Cola’

Los Angeles Times: “Twice in his career of more than 30 years at Coca-Cola, Neville Isdell was offered positions at PepsiCo, the archrival soft drinks company and perennial No. 2 in the cola wars. For some, the rivalry was always a marketing myth, but for Isdell, who eventually rose to become Coke’s chief executive, loyalty to the red team runs deep.”

‘I believed in thums up’ – Interview with the author

Business Today: “I said to myself you have to make a decision now or it will never be done. I told the Coke management I was going to write the book. It is not a book authorised officially by Coca-Cola, nor edited by Coca-Cola. I agreed to let them see it so there would be no legal issues. They allowed me to look at the archives. They were helpful.”

Inside Coca-Cola – Book Review

Bharat Jhurani Blog: “The book details and extraordinary personal and professional story crisscrossing from South Africa to Australia, and From Philippines to Atlanta. From the start I remained glued to completing the book, and some stories stand out.”

Related Blog Articles

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Filed under Book Review, Business, Entrepreneurship, Strategy

12 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: “Inside Coca Cola” by Neville Isdell with David Beasley (2011)

  1. Joelle S.

    N’est pas écrivain qui veut…
    Obviously Mr Isdell led an ordinary life, accompanied by an ordinary wife, luckily business inspired him: let’s only remember the magic of Coca Cola.

    • Mark Thomas

      Dear Joelle,
      Thank you for leaving a comment. I am certain that he did a lot of good things for the company and that his wife was of great support to him. Full credit for that. But the book is just dreadful. If Mr. Isdell had decided to give it away (I’m sure he can afford it!) I wouldn’t have been so harsh. However, the title gives the impression that the reader will learn some interesting details about the Coca Cola in exchange for their hard earned money. This is false advertising and Mr. Isdell should know what that is.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

  2. John

    Totally agree with your review. The title of the book is misleading, and who needs an autobiography from another bloated businessman? A waste of money.

    • Mark Thomas

      John, Thank you for reading the post and taking the time to reply. I have read some good business biographies that have taught me a lot, but this one was a disaapointment to say the least! And yes, the title is very misleading indeed.

  3. I am an author of a biography which actually started from my grandfather, His Royal Highness King Solomon and the entire dynasty- in “Great Legacies, Refreshing Springs” –
    The motivation to write the book which also include a short memoir is the great legacy left by His Highness which I think the entire world stands to gain from, as we continue to deal with the challenge of coping with differences in peoples the world over. The book also contains captivating pieces from the little known civil war that tore apart the lives of our people as well as invaluable tips of great parenting which I consider truely refreshing; which earned the book the name “Great Legacies, Refreshing Springs.”
    I agree with your review because the book title should direct the thoughts of the reader to what he/she should expect to get from the book . No one loves to waste their hard earned money on what might become yet another junk for the recycle bin in their home!

    • Mark Thomas

      Thank you for comment, Mercy. And yes, it is important that when you pay for a book it gives you at least part of what you expect. I had a look at your own book on Amazon (and well done for a clevr bit of advertising!) and I will order it with my next batch. I managed to get through quite a bit of reading over the summer but term starts next week, so they’ll be less time. Anyway, keep up the writing and thanks again for stopping by?

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