Bob was in a crisis.
He managed a soft drink company and he needed to keep his company afloat. You see his challenge was the drink was very popular, but sugar was the main ingredient. During World War II sugar was highly rationed. That meant it was seriously expensive. This was bad for Bob as Bob’s company was already deep in debt. He had to find a way to make his product for less money, distribute it to more people and he needed to do this really fast.
Luckily Bob was a smart guy and he was up for the challenge.
But Bob wasn’t smart in the way most people think of smart. He wasn’t an intellectual type. In fact, he struggled at school and often failed as a student. Yet, he possessed a couple of character qualities, and key skills that would become essential in Bob’s future.
One of these skills was leadership. He excelled at getting people to do, what needed to be done. At military school, Bob was a leader in every club, from drama to the football team. After dropping out of college, Bob worked his way up from being a simple labourer to a machinist apprentice, to assistant stock clerk, to a purchasing and sales agent, then through determination and hard work, he climbed the ladder to vice president. Soon after, Bob was the CEO of this new soft drink company.
Bob became CEO at the same time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour!
War threatened Bob’s fizzy drink business. Financially the business was doomed . . . but Bob was a resourceful and innovative. When the United States entered World War II, Bob was unfazed by the situation. He made a bold and audacious promise. He promised that every single soldier on the front lines would get his fizzy drink for only 5 cents, no matter how much it cost him to make it. Bob promised, wherever American soldiers were in the world, they could count on having, ‘a little taste of home’. It was a huge and audacious promise for a company that was already deeply in debt, but guess what, it paid off!
Bob got a call from a super fan of his soft drink, who heard about Bob’s promise. This fan also happened to be a very powerful guy, General Dwight David Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of all Allied Forces.
Eisenhower wanted to support Bob in his American promise. The General asked Bob to build 10 bottling plants along with 3 million bottles of Bob’s drink that the American government would pay for. Within six months the first plant opened near the front lines. Eventually the government paid for 64 more plants, all built along the European and Pacific fronts. To fulfil that large order, Bob’s company was given all the sugar it needed. Problem solved, company saved, and an icon is made.
Bob’s soft drink would eventually be called America’s real choice and the official soft drink of summer. It became one of the most influential brands in the world history.
Who is Bob?
Bob is Robert Woodruff, President of Coca-Cola who in 1941 ordered
What can Bob’s story teach us?
I think a lot, not about selling, but leadership action in crisis. Here are a few takeaways.
- In times of extraordinary crisis, you have to act extraordinarily . Bob could have just retreated. He could have hunkered down, cut expenses, weather the war and attempt to rebuild business after the war. Bob did just the opposite. He went big and bold and people noticed.
- No excuses. It doesn’t matter your business or your industry, marketing and advertising are essential. Coca-Cola was not a ‘necessary’ product, yet Bob made his product a wartime necessity and after wartime it became an institution, a global brand.
- Good can be made from bad. That’s what Bob did. You don’t have to learn how to see the good in a bad situation. Or even how to find the opportunity in adversity. You just have to do it. It’s not some pre-existing ability. It’s about making a choice to go for it. You have to choose to believe that something good, can and does, come out of everything that happens to you.
This includes the current situation with Covid19. Be like Bob, choose to look for the good that can come from the bad. Your first step in finding the good is choosing to see it. That’s what Bob did. He chose to see what good he could make from the bad. That’s it.
Make the choice. This choice will be the great separator from those who will thrive and from those who will just fade away. Don’t look for excuses. Look only for solutions. Look for exciting opportunities to serve, to help, to lead, to contribute.