The centennial birthday party is billed as a "family affair," but it promises to be the biggest corporate shindig that Atlanta, and probably all of the U.S., has ever seen. Some 14,000 Coca-Cola employees from around the world are flying into the Georgia capital with their families this week, all expenses paid, to join about 10,000 local colleagues in the fun. During four days of festivities, they will toast one another at a mammoth black-tie dinner, join coworkers on six continents in singing Happy Birthday via satellite and enjoy the hoopla of a two-hour parade through downtown Atlanta. Mayor Andrew Young plans to set the tone for the monster bash by belting out, with the help of a 60-piece orchestra and a 1,000-voice choir, one of the biggest hit tunes of the 1970s. The title? I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke, of course.
The scale of whoop-de-do, which will cost somewhere between $10 million and $20 million, is fitting for the Coca-Cola Co. (1985 sales: $7.9 billion) as it turns 100. A century ago, according to corporate lore, John Styth Pemberton, 55, a surgeon and analytical chemist, whomped up the first batch of Coke's magic elixir in his Atlanta backyard, using a three-legged brass kettle and an oar. Now, almost exactly a year after the seemingly disastrous flip- flop decision to change the formula of the world's best-selling soft drink, Coca-Cola has emerged bigger, wealthier and vastly more diversified than ever before. Reflecting that fact, Coca-Cola stock closed last week at 111 1/8, nearly 70% higher than a year ago. Exults Crawford Johnson, a Birmingham Coca- Cola bottler: "We're in the best competitive position I can remember."
Despite the disappointing performance of new Coke, sales of the many other Coca-Cola drinks have been so strong that the company's share of the $26 billion-a-year U.S. soft-drink market has grown this year to 39%, vs. rival Pepsico's 29%, according to Beverage Digest. A year ago Coke's lead was 29% to 23%. A move to license the Coca-Cola name on designer clothing, which began badly last year, now seems to be humming along nicely. Most important, Coca- Cola is reaping benefits from its biggest image change of all, a controversial $1.4 billion leap into movies and television. As the love feast begins this week in Atlanta, the company is planning a vigorous expansion of the overseas operations that have long made Coke's red-and-white logo a worldwide emblem of U.S. consumer culture.
No one is more pleased with the company's progress than Chairman Roberto Goizueta, 54. Says he: "My job is not to be right. It is to produce results." The Cuban-born executive, trained as a chemist, has generated criticism aplenty since he took the helm in 1980. Some of that controversy began well before he tampered with Merchandise 7X, the secret Coke formula that has been kept under corporate lock and key ever since the soft drink's invention.