14 April 2001

"Integrity is a matter of considering the
consequences of every action and of never
being drawn mindlessly into anything."
    - Anonymous 

Diogenes once traveled the streets of Athens in broad daylight carrying a lit lamp aloft in his hand.

While not precisely a luxury, lamp oil was expensive, and burning it while the sun shone brightly was beyond extravagance, the act of a madman. When approached by some curious folks who wanted to know the cause for his seeming insanity, Diogenes calmly replied, "I am looking for an honest man." Honest men in Athens at the time were apparently rare enough to require such extreme measures to detect them.

I think we've finally found an honest man in the executive offices of the Coca-Cola corporation, and the only illumination required was a brief press announcement.

Summersfield Johnston, Jr., aged sixty-eight, made the news a few days ago when he announced his intention to step down from the executive position he's held for slightly longer than a year. A former CEO of Coca-Cola, Johnston returned to an executive office in January 2000. Now, however, he wants out, and makes no bones about why.

Johnston was quoted as saying he's "old and tired," and that the past one has not been the most pleasant year in his life. I've been an executive myself, in an exponentially smaller company, during a time when the economy seemed on the rise. I do not consider that time as being particularly pleasant in my own life, so I can only imagine what it must be for a man in Johnston's position. After all, he is accountable to the shareholders and the Board of Directors for managing the profits and income derived from producing, marketing, distributing, and vending endless bottles, cans, and kegs of soda pop around the world. The weight of the world's thirst for Coca-Cola rests squarely on Johnston's old shoulders, and he wants out from under it.

Imagine a world where every man in a management position is as honest as Johnston, and as willing to confront his own limitations. Why, we might begin to see better training programs and succession planning at executive levels. We might find that record-keeping and corporate histories become more important, if smooth transitions are to occur when men and women decide they are too "old and tired" to continue fighting the political battles, planning the marketing campaigns, or defending the product against competitive encroachment.

We might also discover that the resulting wave of honest self-assessment is truly the pause that refreshes us.

My hat is off to Mr. Johnston.

Excuse me, I need to go quench my thirst.


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