Coca-Cola Legend to Return as Advisor

Share via

In a further break from the go-it-alone era of its former chairman and chief executive, Douglas Ivester, Coca-Cola Co. said Monday that Donald Keough, a legendary 43-year Coke veteran, would rejoin the company as an advisor to senior management.

The world’s largest soft drinks company said Keough, 74, would personally advise Chairman and Chief Executive Douglas Daft and the company’s board.

The Nebraska-born Keough, who was once described by Fortune magazine as the father confessor of Coca-Cola, is considered a key architect behind Coke’s transformation from a laggard in the early 1980s to one of America’s most successful companies.


As Coca-Cola’s president and chief operating officer, Keough worked closely with former Chairman and Chief Executive Roberto Goizueta to revamp the company’s bottling system and build its domestic and overseas markets.

Keough retired in 1993 but continued to advise Goizueta until the Cuban-American’s death from cancer in 1997.

“Don has unique insights into the history and traditions that continue to contribute to Coca-Cola’s acceptance as a good neighbor around the world and its preeminence among the world’s brands,” Daft said in a memo to Coke employees.

Daft replaced Ivester, who retired this year after leading the company for 2 1/2 tumultuous years. Daft said it was hard to imagine anyone more capable of advising the company’s senior executives than Keough.

But Ivester--who succeeded Goizueta and was at the helm in 1999 when the company was hit by a massive contamination scare in Europe and a racial-discrimination lawsuit in the United States--had politely brushed aside Keough’s offers of help.

With his connections, Keough was in a position to help Ivester avoid the blunders that ultimately cost him his chairmanship.


Keough is currently chairman of investment bank Allen & Co.

Shares of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola rose 50 cents to close at $55.31 on the New York Stock Exchange.