Kathryn Tracy Rizzi: This begins and oral history interview with Thomas Mattia on June 4, 2020. This is our third interview session, as a part of the Class of 1970 Oral History Project. Tom, you were explaining how you were the first in several different things.
Thomas Mattia: Right, I was a first-generation student at Rutgers. I was the first member of my father's extended family, his immediate family, so all my cousins and stuff, the first one to go to and graduate from college. [I am] just the second in my mother's larger immediate family or extended family, whichever the category is, her siblings and their children. Then, there were a couple after me. So, the idea of going to college was a new concept in both of those families. Neither one of my parents finished high school. So, they didn't have a high school education, and they went into the service. My father was a mechanic. My mother was a clerk. Fortunately, for me, they sent me--they did the best they could do--they got me into Catholic school, which to them was--and it probably was--a step above public schools, at the time. That gave me a better foundation for going on to school. I think, when I was in high school, the tuition for Essex Catholic was like three hundred dollars a year, something like that, but it was the archdiocesan school for Essex County. That's interesting.
We talked about my mother's family being really firmly rooted in Maryland. I mean, literally, it looks like we go back to Lord Baltimore in some fashion, at least on my grandfather's side. My father's family was all from Calabritto in Avellino in Campania in Italia, so completely from that little village, which is in the mountains above Salerno. We went there years [ago]. The older girls were teenagers. My wife's father was a second lieutenant in the Army, and he participated in the amphibious landing in--is it Salerno? Let me just look it up. I don't remember which one. [Editor's Note: On September 9, 1943, Allied forces landed at Salerno as part of Operation Avalanche, the invasion of Italy during World War II.]
KR: I think it was Salerno.
TM: Yes, I think so too. We went back to see where he came ashore, which you could find, because there was this old medieval tower on the beach that was in the pictures from his landing group. So, we found that, and then we found--there was a little monument to his division.
Then, we discovered that my grandfather's home is only about fifteen minutes back up into the mountains, up from Salerno. So, it was an interesting juxtaposition of lives. We went back there, and the kids, there weren't many Mattias in their lives because my father's family was still pretty much back in Newark and we didn't go to Newark. We got there. There's like three other families in Calabritto. My grandmother was a Ficetola. So, they were able to figure out which one of the three big Mattia families was likely, because the Ficetolas lived in the village and there was a Mattia family that lived in the village. Then, the other two were sort of outside the village. So, that was cool, except that the village had been pretty much decimated in 1984. There was a big earthquake and most of the village got knocked down, so it had been largely rebuilt in mid-century Italian architecture, which is kind of Brutalist. Anyway, the kids got to see where they came from and met a lot of Mattias, which was fun.
KR: Yesterday, we were talking about your career, and we left off with your time at Electronic Data Systems. You were going to start today talking about your transition ...
TM: To Coca-Cola.
TM: Yes, so, I was going, I think, into my sixth year. My career sort of ended being roughly ten years as a journalist, then ten years with IBM, which is actually where I got my business education because you really had to learn the business in order to be a part of it. So, ten years as a journalist, ten years with IBM, and then, sort of groups of five, a little under five years with Hill and Knowlton, then the short piece with Joe Jennings, but then a little over five years at Ford, and then from Ford to EDS, and about six years at EDS. Then, I went to Coke, and it was about four years at Coke. So, it's like sort of fivers or roundabout five.
So, anyway, we had gone through this whole big thing at EDS. The company was rebuilding itself, rebranding itself. With the changes, I got to take management of advertising along with public affairs. We were really looking, at that point, at sort of reputational advertising, reestablishing trust in EDS, because we had been so battered. The business was getting a little bit better. Mike Jordan came in and did a good job. I had a good working relationship with Mike. He was fairly savvy. He had been president of CBS News. He had good contacts, and he certainly knew his way around, was more comfortable than Dick [Brown] had been. [Editor's Note: Michael H. Jordan (1936-2010) served as the CEO of Electronic Data Systems (EDS) from 2003 to 2007. Prior to EDS, Jordan held the post of CEO of PepsiCo Worldwide foods from 1986 to 1990 and CEO of Westinghouse Electric Corporation from 1993 to 1998, during which time Westinghouse acquired CBS Inc. and became CBS Corporation. Richard Brown was the CEO of EDS from 1999 to 2003.]
For earnings, for instance, when we did earnings at EDS, we had to compile very big, thick briefing books with Q&As, like every question we could think of. When he [Dick] did the earnings call, he sat in a room, and there was a set of like four or five big screens. We first started out with just the books, and they pulled through the books, and then as technology progressed somewhat, we were able to load it up on CDs and make it searchable, so it was easier to find. We literally, as someone asked a question, we would then search and find the three or four questions close to that that we had already developed with their answers. That's how he answered questions. He largely did not wing it. He wanted the safety and security of having the answers in front of him.
One of the few times he did wing it, he really killed it. See, it was the annual meeting. We did the same thing for the annual meeting. He'd go out, and we had a podium that had a monitor in it. He would take a question. We'd scurry to get an answer up, and he'd read the answer. It was a year in which the business had done fairly well. It was before the collapse. His total compensation was like fifty-five million dollars, a lot of it in equity, but still fifty-five million, a really big number for those days. I mean, we're talking early 2000s. We had this answer set for him, which was, "I'm as surprised as you are at the size of my compensation. I never really thought that I would get paid this much. It's not something that I looked for, but it is the going rate in the marketplace and I'm being paid commensurably with my CEO peers." He went through that a couple of times, and I was really happy he stuck with it.
Finally, it looked like we were done and over it and he had answered it for the last time. He was smiling, and he turned to look out in the audience to find the next question. He saw his wife as he turned, and he thought he'd be humorous. So, he just finished up with this answer about, "I never I thought I'd get it, but I did and that's what the market pays." He saw his wife, and he said, "And besides my wife has very expensive taste." The air went out of the room, we all went pale, and of course, he was toasted by the media for being out of touch. His poor wife, his wife had absolutely nothing to do with it. This was all Dick, and she gets thrown under the bus. There's nothing you could do about that. I mean, CEOs are human beings, and if I were Trump's press secretary--except that Trump, even though he goes off, he seems to manage to do it in a way that keeps his people in line. I don't know. At any rate, we had to struggle with that.
Mike Jordan was much more comfortable. [He would] take a briefing, didn't want all these answers in front of him, said if he was worth his salt, there should be very few things that he couldn't answer. If he couldn't answer it, he'd say that, and he'd get back to the person on it. So, much more laid back about it and much more comfortable. Those briefings ended up changing the tenor. With Dick, a lot of my time was spent putting a strategy together and then completely building it and doing all the Q&A, and setting it all up, and providing the narrative, whereas with Mike, it was much more, "Let's sit down and talk. Let's talk it through. Give me your point of view. Tell me what you think we're going to be hit with. Yes, you can give me some rough notes." He didn't want this whole big briefing thing. So, it's a very, very different experience.
That said, there was still a lot of turmoil. There was a lot of change. He really changed the executive team. He brought in people that he knew from his days at Frito Lay. So, there was change going on, and I had been doing the job for six years or so. EDS was a Fortune Fifty company, was a twenty-five-billion-dollar business, but it was a business-to-business business. It wasn't something that people saw. It wasn't a brand that you could take out into the marketplace and sort of have fun with. The communications were kind of different.
We had really hard crisis communications when things were bad, but once they evened out, it actually kind of got a little bit dull. I remember when things were bad, when we missed on earnings--I told you about that yesterday--we missed by a substantial amount, by ten cents, and our revenues were off by hundreds, if not millions, I think. The Wall Street Journal, we had a reporter assigned to us in from Dallas. The Wall Street Journal did this week of stories about why we missed and the challenges with our contracts, and we had gotten a big deal with the Navy. We were ready, the day after earnings, we were ready to announce a major deal with Proctor & Gamble, where we were going to take all of their back-office stuff, BSO, it's called Business Systems Operations.
Not only did I have this incredulous conversation with Dick about, "We're going to get hammered for missing this much," and have him say, "No, no, no, I can handle it," we also were getting ready to announce this multimillion-dollar deal with Proctor & Gamble, and I said, "Have you told Lafley," who was the CEO of P&G at the time, "Have you told Lafley that we're going to have this hiccup?" He said, "No, no, no, it won't make any difference." I said, "Dick, it goes to the credibility of the company." He said, "No, no, no, I'll call him after we announce. I'm sure we'll be fine." You know, who am I? I'm only your communications guy, but I think you're crazy. So, he doesn't tell Lafley, we announce, everything explodes, and about eleven o'clock at night, I get a call from Dick saying, "Tom, Lafley said they're not going to go through with the deal." They weren't going to pull out completely; they just weren't going to go forward. So, at eleven o'clock at night, now I have to start working with their head of public relations, who, fortunately, I knew. It didn't throw us completely under the bus. The other thing was everyone knew. They had scheduled a call to announce this thing. So, they had already alerted everyone who followed them that there was going to be a major call at ten in the morning, or something, after the market opened. So, they never went forward. The [Journal] wrote about that. Then, they wrote about the other contracts. [Editor's Note: Alan George "A.G." Lafley served as the chairman, president and CEO of Proctor & Gamble from 2000 to 2010 and again from 2013 to 2015.]
So, we get to Thursday, and I'm the phone with a reporter. I said, "Look," and he was working on something for Friday, and I said, "Look, I can't believe that you won't do a major story on Monday to wrap up this entire week. I can't believe that you are not already planning that. You have plenty of stuff. So, I'm telling you now; I want to make sure that I get my guys back in front of you before you write that story." The reporter said, "No, no, no, I'm not writing a story." I said, "Are you sure you're not writing a story?" "No, no, no, we've covered this stuff. We had a whole week of this. I have no plans for doing a story." I said, "Have you checked with your editors? They don't want it?" "Nope, we're not going to do a story, Tom. No, we're walking away from it. We've done enough." I said, "Well, okay, but I want you to know that if you're going to do a story, I want you to call me back and give me a chance, I'll give you Dick Brown, I'll give you the CFO. I'll give you all the big guys, everybody." "No, no, no, no, no."
Sunday morning, he calls saying, "Look, I'm doing this big story for Monday, and I want a comment." [laughter] I just hit the roof. "How can you …" So, Marti had been out shopping, and she came in. I was standing in the middle of our living room screaming at this guy, and Marti's going, "No, no, stop, it's The Journal," but I was like really upset and he was not going to [talk to the CEO]. "I just need a quote from you. I've got everything else I need." I said, "You have to come out. I told you'd I give you …" He said, "No, we're not going to do it that way." So, I said, "All right, I'm calling your editors," and I slowly started crawling up the editorial ladder, which is hard to do on a Sunday. You're trying to track people, but at least some of them are getting ready, because they were getting ready for Monday's paper. I just kept saying, "Look, you guys are The Wall Street Journal. If you don't have journalistic integrity, who will?" Finally, they said, "All right, are you going to give us everybody?" I said, "Everybody you want, starting with Dick Brown and the CFO." They held the story for a day.
I forget the reporter's name, but he had to trundle out. Again, we had to spend Sunday night getting everybody briefed. Of course, it was Dick Brown, so everything had to be in writing. He had to have a briefing book. I had to have it the first thing for him on Monday morning. At least, there weren't going to come until a little bit in the morning, so we had a little bit of time.
He did the interviews. It was all fresh material. The story was still bad. There was no way the story wasn't going to be bad, but it had about half of--we went through it--about half of the copy were quotes from our executives. So, at least it was bad but pretty balanced and with a lot of stuff from us rather than just being naked. I felt that was like one of my shining hours. We felt really good about coming out of that that way. At any rate, that's what EDS had been like. It was exhilarating but really mind-numbing for about a year while we worked through all of that.
Then, Mike started and we had to reengage. EDS's business really was you'd bid on providing services for a client, and the business was taking over their IT [information technology] operations, which included their people, then laying off a bunch of the people and keeping some. Then, we had a whole lot of people who were EDS employees but had worked for GM [General Motors] or had worked for AT&T or had worked for British Telecom or whatever. They still felt like they were more British Telecom employees than they were EDS employees, because they were still doing pretty much the same job. They were doing it in the same place. They hadn't changed locations. They were using the same equipment. There's 250,000 people, most of whom who had come from other places and hadn't spent much time in EDS.
That was Mike's big challenge, and we addressed that with this massive storytelling program, before we had the benefit of the Internet. I mean, [there was Internet] but not the capabilities we have now. We were actually physically going out, doing storytelling sessions, having employees write their own stories on cards, bringing that back in, putting them on CDs, loading them up. The whole idea was we developed a narrative about who EDS is, "We're EDS. Here's why we've been successful. Here's why you can be proud of EDS. Here's why you can believe in where we're going. Here's where we're going. That's our story" and had a couple of senior guys sort of tell their story to go along with it. Then, [we would] have these sessions where we would then invite employees to tell their stories and where they were going and what they wanted to get out of it. It really worked very well, but that was a second big piece.
As we were coming out of that, I was getting a little bit tired of EDS. I have a good headhunter friend, a guy by the name of Bill Heyman, who I've known since my IBM days. He's built a really nice business, a boutique business in communications. He is probably the best known and certainly the biggest independent executive recruiter in the communications industry. We talked all the time, because you always talk. I mean, part of the reason I could keep moving was I never didn't take a phone call from a headhunter. [laughter] When the headhunter called, I always talked to them. If any job sounded interesting, I always took a look at. I never said no without at least some investigation. Literally, if I haven't worked in a place, I probably interviewed there somewhere along the way. I probably talked to them somehow. I always thought I'd end up in Seattle. I think I actually interviewed for four jobs in Seattle and ended up not getting any of them over the course of time.
Bill let me know that he had been contacted by Coca-Cola, and I said, "Yes, I'd be interested in that." But there were going to be a lot of people interested in that. It's the world's best-known brand. It's a very rich company. It's a very visible company. So, it was an experienced group of people taking a look at the business. They also had used Burson-Marsteller, which is the major public relations firm. They had used them for a long time. Harold Burson, who was now ninety-five-ish, Harold is one of the founding fathers of public relations and communications as we know it today and the founder of Burson-Marsteller and just a great guy, a very sweet gentleman, who has helped more people in my industry than, I think, any single person.
At any rate, he had [a] good relationship with the old guard at Coca-Cola and was going to be part of the process for selecting the new senior vice president. Coke was coming through a really horrible time. 2004 to 2005, Pepsi passed them in market capitalization for the first time in history. They were getting pounded for any bunch of things, workplace rights, environmental issues with water, a ton of stuff. Probably worst of all, because of those issues, they were losing contracts on major college campuses, which is a big part of the ready-to-drink industry. So, they were struggling.
They had gone through two CEOs, who had both been fired, both very visibly, both very messy situations. Part of their problem was the lead director, a guy by the name of Keough, who had been president of Coca-Cola when Goizueta was the chairman. Goizueta was this sainted head of Coke who brought it to its modern existence. Keough loved to float ideas with The Wall Street Journal, get big stories and see how they played about people he was going to hire or things he wanted to do, and it really created an issue for the company because you always have all these rumors floating around. Well, he floated the idea that he was going to hire a guy named Jim Kilts. I think he was the CEO of Gillette. He was going to hire the CEO of Gillette. Well, it ends up, the CEO of Gillette didn't want to come, so they ended up with egg on their face because there was all this stuff about hiring this guy and then he turned them down. So, they fired two successive CEOs. [Editor's Note: Donald Keough (1926-2015) served as the president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola from 1981 to 1993. Roberto Goizueta (1931-1997) served as the chairman, chief executive officer and director of Coca-Cola from 1980 to 1997. James Kilts served as the CEO of Gillette from 2001 to 2005. He negotiated its acquisition by Proctor & Gamble.]
The guy they were going to hire turned them down, and they turned and hired a guy by the name of Neville Isdell, who had been a very senior guy at Coke, had been passed over the last time they hired a CEO and so had taken his retirement and gone off to go run one of the big bottlers, Hellenic, in Athens. They scrambled and offered the job to Neville, and Neville took it, saying, "I'll take it, but I only want to do it for four, five, six years. I don't want to do it for a long time, and I have to have certain parameters around it." Some of that parameter was, "We really need to change the culture. You need to let me do that." So, they agreed, because they needed to get somebody in there. [Editor's Note: E. Neville Isdell held the position of CEO of Coca-Cola from 2004 to 2008.]
That's the opportunity that I ended up driving through because Neville was not comfortable with the guy who was the head of public affairs and communications. That guy had expressed some interest in getting into operations anyway, so they moved him to Russia. They made him president of the Russian business. Neville got to hire his own head of public affairs and communications. The job usually ends up being somebody from Washington. You notice that it's always public affairs and communications. It's never communications and public affairs. So, it's often someone from Washington who's a good political animal, who also knows how to communicate because of that, around that, which usually means your communications just isn't as rich, because a public affairs person, there's a way to do it in politics that's not necessarily the way you do it in business and so it can be colored. It just so happened that Neville believed his biggest challenge was on the communications side and the culture side, not on the government relations side. So, he was willing to take someone who came from the communications side, who did have a public affairs background. We had it at EDS, and I had done it a lot doing the overseas work.
That got me the job, and it was one of the shortest interview processes I have ever gone through. It was the end of 2005. The reason I brought up Harold Burson was Harold knew me and was a friend. Harold said, "I don't know if you have the temperament that will fit well with Coca-Cola, because you're an East Coast guy, you tend to be a little bit loud, you're a pretty aggressive implementer of your strategies. Coca-Cola, at its heart, is still this old, gentile southern company," which, in fact, was true. Goizueta was called "Mr. Goizueta." They still called Keough "Mr. Keough." The guy who had set up the communications function and had been its longtime overseer, who was like only one step removed from the guy I was replacing, also went by Mister. When I started, one of the first things they asked me, "How do you want me to be addressed?" I said, "Tom," and they said, "You don't want to be Mr. Mattia?" By that time, it was changing, but there were still remnants of that. So, anyway, Harold said, "I just don't know that you'd fit." I said, "Okay, that's fair, but it sounds like really they're looking for a change agent, and a change agent is not going to fit. The change agent has to force change. Don't discount me, because I think actually I am what they need."
It took me a couple conversations with Harold, and I had the same thing with Bill, who was a good friend, who said, "You know, you're great. I just don't know that you're great for this particular job." A guy that we knew, a guy named Charlie Holleran, who I had worked for at IBM years earlier, had the job at Coca-Cola maybe five years before, something like that. He held it for less than two years and never actually moved down to Coke, and he left before the two years was out. The person they put in the job--the person I was replacing--was this long-term, old-Atlanta, old Atlanta family, long-time Coca-Cola employee, had a divinity degree from Yale, and his communications background was that he had learned to write the sermons, so, "If I can write a sermon, I can write a speech." At any rate, he was a pretty good political operator, so I think he had actually come up through the public affair side of things. He fit nicely, and it was exactly why Neville didn't want him because he was too comfortable. The people that Bill and Harold had sort of lined up tended to be versions of that, and it wasn't what Neville wanted. [Editor's Note: Charles Holleran was a senior vice president and chief communications officer at Coca-Cola from 2000 to 2001.]
I came as pretty much not that, and it fit. Neville wanted to get somebody hired, and they were starting to get into the latter part of 2005 and he was in a bit of a hurry. I was one of one or two people they were going through. Literally, it was like the first of November I flew down there. It was a Friday early on. I had dinner with the CFO, and then, on Saturday morning, I went to see Neville at his house. For the first time, I had to think about, "What do you wear to an interview with the CEO of Coca-Cola on a Saturday morning?" I figured I'd better wear a suit. Probably you can't go wrong with a suit, better to be overdressed. So, it was like early Saturday morning, like eight-thirty, nine o'clock, I pull up in a Town Car, and Neville is getting the newspaper off his porch. We started talking, and we talked through lunch. We hit it off really well. We had a long [conversation], covered a lot of stuff--or we talked up to lunch, because I had a lunch meeting with the head of HR [human resources].
The head of HR, at the time, was battling with all this workplace rights stuff, and they weren't doing well. They weren't doing well at all. So, I had this great conversation with Neville, and then I met with the head of HR. She was really asking for my counsel to how they should be addressing these issues they had, as much as interviewing me just as an interview. That was it, those three conversations.
A week or two later, Neville called and said, "I want to offer you the job," then some time to negotiate, and set a starting date and all that stuff. But it was incredible; it was like, literally, three interviews, a week to sit on it, and a call directly from Neville saying, "Let's go." It ended up being great and wonderful. I had gone through enough job changes to know that every time you're talking to somebody about what the job's going to be like and what your office is going to be like and what your interactions are going to be and what the reporting structures are and what the staff looks like, it's never completely true. There's always something that, "Oh, we haven't gotten to that yet," or, "Oh, not quite that." Coke was the first time everything was spot on and amazing.
I went to see my new office just around the Christmas holidays. [Editor's Note: This refers to One Coca-Cola Plaza, a twenty-nine floor skyscraper in Atlanta, Georgia.] The twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth were the executive floors. The twenty-sixth floor was the boardroom, where all the board stuff was. It was this big, open three-story [atrium], with a stairway around it. There were two of them, two atriums that started on twenty-four and went up to twenty-six. Neville's office was on twenty-five. My office was around the atrium, and the CFO's office was here. I mean, I saw Neville--Neville and I had coffee literally every morning. It was back in the day when there weren't as many news aggregators, so you were still reading newspapers. You were still searching through stuff. He had a car and driver. So, he'd get all his papers delivered to him, and he'd sit in the back and read the papers on his way to the office. I would come into the office and have all the papers waiting for me at my secretary's desk, and I'd pick them up and go into my office and go through them. I usually got to the office around seven; he got in at seven-thirty. So, that gave me a half hour to scan, but we'd always play this game where he would try and have a story that I hadn't seen yet, not so much about us but just about things in general. It was just a great, comfortable working relationship.
We put in a massive program. There is a thing called the "Manifesto for Growth." The management team [was] really pushing to buy some kind of food company because they said, "That's why Pepsi was doing better. Pepsi had snacks and drinks, and so they could go into a store and get more floor space and there was a natural combination." Neville finally said, "Okay, I'll listen to that. I'll think about putting a plan together, if you can explain to me why you think you can run a food business when you've proven you can't run a drinks business." He said, "Prove to me that we can run a drinks business, and then we can have a conversation about going out and buying something," but we hadn't proven we can run a drinks business. Why add a complexity onto something? Let's focus [on drinks]. They all agreed with that. The top 450 executives, managers drafted a thing called the "Manifesto for Growth." It then got circulated through the rest of the company, which is actually pretty small. Coca-Cola itself is not a big company. The system is huge. Coca-Cola is like fifteen, twenty thousand people. The system is a million plus, because all the bottlers own all the plants and most of the people who are doing stuff. At any rate, that "Manifesto for Growth" became really a platform to go forward, and we communicated around it and had people sign up to it. It really became an important piece of the pie.
Shortly after I got there, I guess the first board meeting that I was going to be part of--because several of us in senior management, the functional leaders, had board committee responsibility. So, I had to support the public affairs and policy committee, the HR person did the HR things, so really different than [EDS]. At EDS, I'd report to the board, but I didn't have an ongoing board responsibility. They didn't have the same committee structure. They didn't have a committee for public affairs. So, I'd come in and report around issues when they were burning issues about where we were going. But with Coke, it was a standing committee, ongoing. So, I had to prepare for that.
It was the first quarter, I guess, first quarter meeting. Neville said, "We need to explain exactly where we are on all these issues that are impacting us and lay out a strategy. We have to get the board onside, and you're going to do it. You work with the head of labor relations and the head of science and sustainability." After taking it all in, I said, "Thanks, but I'm like the newest person. It's public affairs and communications. Why me, and what kind of authority do I have?" He said, "Well, you don't have any authority, and it's you because I want them to meet you. Also, I want to put a target on your back. If it goes wrong, it's you, and so that'll motivate you to make sure that even without authority, you will get people to work with you to get stuff done."
I did this first presentation to the board. We went through it, and we said, "You have three major issues. You have workplace rights issues, mainly driven by the fact that we've been accused for a decade of killing people in Latin America around our bottling facilities. You have water sustainability. We're viewed as the absolute worst steward of water. We pollute water. We suck water out of the ground. We're hurting everybody. We have obesity and health issues. The problem in Latin America has now led to a major impact to the North American business as you well know. You're losing contracts," I forget how many millions of dollars, "and that's not going to go away until you address these other issues. The DNA of Coca-Cola has a lot to do with refreshment. It's all about refreshment and it's all about liquid refreshment and that's all about water. Water is ninety-eight, ninety-nine percent of everything we sell, and water is critical to the communities we want to sell to. Our plan is to move from being the worst corporate steward of water to being viewed as the best corporate steward of water. If we can do that, we can show that we care about the communities that surround our bottling plants. We can do good for society, while we're doing good for the business. We're also going to take on workplace rights, because we can do that by having a set of workplace rights agreements that all the bottlers agree to and that we monitor and report back on. We'll try with obesity, but no one is even talking to us yet on obesity. We have to think about it, but we don't think we should go there. We should really focus on water, because we could make a big push, and we think we can handle workplace rights." When I was done, Warren Buffett, who was on the board, came up to me and said, "Hey, glad to meet you, and, boy, they really handed you a bag of crap, didn't they?" That was my jovial first meeting.
It went well. They gave me approval. Within Coca-Cola, getting the board to approve gave me ability to then go to the operations people, make the same pitch. They had to agree to it, because then we had to go to the bottlers and get the bottlers to agree, because the bottlers really had to do most of the work. The bottlers had to improve their plants, they had to improve their water treatment, and we all had to agree that we were going to invest in reforesting seven major river systems, so that we were creating new clean water. We made a pledge that we would be water neutral by 2015, which they did. The day that that piece of news hit, I just felt really good. I had been out of the business for a while, but it felt good to see it finally come to fruition.
It took us over two years to get everything in place, to get everybody to agree to it, to agree to the metrics we'd put out there and how we were going to report them out. We negotiated a major agreement with the World Wildlife Foundation and with Oxfam, but mainly WWF, on the reforestation work. We had to negotiate agreements with governments all over the place. The Yangzi River was China. The Danube was a whole bunch of European nations along there. The Amazon was mainly [Brazil]. The work is still ongoing. We're still reforesting stuff in Mississippi.
I make my pitch to the board, they approve, I feel good, I go home, and I was living by myself. The family was still back in Dallas. I had drinks with my team. So, I was going to change and get out of my suit and put on a sport jacket, because it was Atlanta. I'm standing in this walk-in closet, and I had worn my new blue suit. I'm taking off the blue suit, and I have the sport jacket I'm going to wear. I'm looking for the black slacks that go with the sport jacket, and I can't find these black slacks. It's not like I brought a whole bunch of stuff with me. I'm looking around, and finally, I see, hanging up, a pair of blue slacks, and I think, "Oh no." I look down, and in fact, I'm wearing my black slacks. In the morning, in the half dark, I had gotten up, and I had presented to the board in black slacks and a blue jacket. Fortunately, the board was really old, and I don't think any of them could see that far. I just thought, "A, how stupid, but, B, God, I'm glad I figured this out now and not just before I went in," because I would've been so upset about being poorly dressed, it would've put me over the top.
At any rate, that went great. That set us up. We then worked through it. I really found I had, without having direct reporting relationships, I had a great management opportunity to work with these senior people, who really had been trying for a couple of years to make some headway. The old head of communications didn't care. The former CEO didn't care. They now, finally, had a CEO who would listen and had been given someone to lead it. They were happy to have someone out in front of it, because if it failed, "Let the new guy ..." It's like the Army. When they go out on patrol, they put the new guys out front because, "Let them take the risk." I was naïve enough to think, "Oh, boy, they really like me," and I think really it was just getting me out in front.
A couple years in, I was thinking, "Boy, this has really gone well. I'm just doing this really good job." We were a ranking organization, so every year you got ranked one to five. One was a really, really hard thing; two, a lot of people got if you did a good job; three was okay but a little risky; then four was you're in trouble; and five, you're on a measured mile to go. My first year, Neville gave me a two and said really nice things about me, but it was a two. I was okay with the two. It was the first year in. Then, the second and third years, I got one ratings because we really did well. We really kicked it, and I was really pleased with the organization and pleased with my team.
The team, which hadn't had much morale--no one ever stood up for them; the leader of the organization really was more of an order-taker than a leader--we changed that. My mantra to them was, "If you want to sit around this table and get to another table in a leadership position, you'd better come with a point of view and not just something you thought of, but something that you've researched, you have data and facts behind it. You've thought it through, and you can express it. If you're going to sit around this management team, you have to come to the table with a point of view. It doesn't mean that your point of view is always going to win, but it does mean that you'll be an integral part of the conversation. I want PAC to be an integral part of all the conversations across the broader company, so I depend on you to help me formulate our point of view, so that I can present that point of view." That gave them an energy that they didn't have before, and it gave them a power that they didn't have before. They just did an extraordinarily good job. They took it and ran with it, and they would do that within the organizations that they served, because they all had pieces of the overall organization that they were supporting. They worked tremendously together as a team. They really began to get the respect of the other groups within the Coke hierarchy. Recommendations were not always taken but always taken seriously and often used, if not in full at least in part, to address whatever we were going through.
We had another major internal communications program, used the same storytellers that I'd used at EDS to come in, a year after we had launched the "Manifesto for Growth" as a program, to revisit the Manifesto, to tweak it, and sign back up again for it. We made a big deal out of it and a big wall where people signed their names and pledged to go forward with the manifesto. Part of the manifesto was the agreement that we would manage the company against five Ps: against our people, our portfolio of products, our partners in the bottling system, our profit of the company, and the planet. The planet, having environmental considerations in those five things, changed the dynamics of how people did [the other Ps]. Actually, the five Ps changed the dynamics for everybody. So, all the operations guys had never really had to think about the planet, not that they didn't think about it, but it wasn't a primary concern. The functional folks had little profit that they really had to worry about.
Public affairs, for years, had gotten by by saying, "Our contribution to profit is what we do to mitigate taxes. We return money to the company by tax mitigation, be it national or in a country or location," which is fair but not completely. So, I said, "That's great, but we have to find a way that we actually add to the revenue line. We have to show that what we do brings in more revenue." We made a pledge to do that, just as the operations guys had to pledge to consider the planet equally with profit and all of that other stuff.
There was an instance where they were looking to build a new bottling plant in Pakistan, in Karachi, I think, or outside of it. They had picked a site but now were being really attacked by the local community and by the media, because the site was in a drought area. There is all this concern about, "You're putting a bottling plant in a drought-stricken area. You're going to take more water out of the ground and make the drought worse." Had the decision on that plant site been made after they had initiated the five Ps, they likely wouldn't have gone there, but it was something that had been done in the previous administration. Now, they were kind of stuck.
We went back and looked at it again and included planet and came up with another site. I mean, the reason they chose the site they chose is because it was close to the city, and it reduces your transportation costs. That makes sense, but if you're going to be challenged by water anyway, you're going to have issues around that. So, they went back and resited it at a site that was set in a decent watershed. It was further away but manageable, and the issue went away. So, people started understanding this was the way we were running the business, and so you started thinking about that because each one of those Ps had to have an owner. I got to own the planet. That gave us some clout in having discussions with other pieces of the organization and made the job easier.
Then, working with the science and sustainability guys, we built it all up into reputation. So, we said, "The way we're going to prove our value and our contribution to profit is not only tax mitigation, but adding to the revenue stream by improving the company's reputation. We'll probably need two to three years of tracking to make that case, but we believe we could make it, because we have to have a baseline of reputation now versus sales now. Then, see where we are in a year or two years and see what we've done to advance reputation and whether there's been a commensurate increase in sales as well." By year three, we could really start showing that correlation, that connectivity. That was a great big thing.
All of that was great. I had a great time. It was a wonderful. I was one of the folks who could order a corporate jet. I was the last one on the list, but I was on the list. [laughter] Coke had a fleet of five, I think five jets at the time. We had two G-5s and two G-55s and then a smaller Falcon that they used for North America. [Editor's Note: The aircraft being referred to are the Gulfstream 5, the Gulfstream G550 and the Dassault Falcon.] They were flying all the time. Coke was very big, still is very big on being in the market. You have to be in the market. I guess at one time, they had had the operations guys, the presidents of each of the regions, at one time, they all worked out of Atlanta and would fly to their regions. When I was there, they had moved everybody to the regions, which made sense. You ran South America out of Rio. You ran Asia, I think they ran it out of Hong Kong. The rest of us had to get to them, and it was a big meeting culture. There were at least four times a year when the entire management team would get together. We had a process where to build the business plan, all of the operations folks would come in and present to the executive team their business plan for the upcoming year. That'd be critiqued and whatever, and they'd go back and finalize that and then send it to us. Then, we'd have all the functional heads would report back to operations saying, "Okay, given what you've given us, here's what we plan to do to support them." That's two meetings a year, and it was always like in Paris or Morocco, it was always some place good, Sydney or Beijing.
There was a requirement that any time a senior executive traveled to any location that was going to be more than just an overnight, you had to take half a day to visit the market. So, you touch down in any country; if you're there more than just touch down and take back off again, you have to go do a market tour. It's a lot of work for the market, and it's a lot of work for the executive. You literally walk through--we were big on umbrellas. [laughter] You really look at--how many umbrellas do they have? How clean are they? How clear is the Coca-Cola logo? How are they displayed? You look at the coolers, which all have glass fronts. How are they stacked? Are they all stacked? Is there a plan in this market to stack coolers appropriately? Do they allow other products to sneak into our coolers, or do they monitor that? How are they situated in the establishment? You had to drink the product. Was it sold at the right temperature? Go look at the bottling plant. Look at the trucks. Are they clean? So, it really led to some interesting walk arounds.
One of our projects, as water was getting in and getting settled, the great thing was, because we did a good job with water, it opened up discussions in other areas. So, we actually started talking with nutritionists who said, "We still don't believe you, but we see that you are a good actor in water. You made a commitment, and you followed through. So, we're willing to start talking to you to see if we can get to a place where you can make a commitment that makes sense for us," which was a big step forward. We got the workplace rights settled; the same thing, a good set of rules. The bottlers are all signed up. People did it because we were doing other good things.
One of the things that one of the executives wanted to do was something more around economic empowerment, because he rightly noted that's part of sustainability as well. We started this program--or operations started a program that we supported--of distribution centers, micro-distribution centers. We did it in Africa to start. All it was was two containers, two tractor trailer containers. We'd put two containers down in a location. One container would be a complete storehouse, and the other container would be half storehouse and half office. That would be this little micro-distribution center. It would serve as an area, depending on the locale, big enough to ride bikes back and forth, but often, if it was on the outskirts of a market or something, it would just be walkable, things with handcarts that they'd take around to go to the stores.
I visited a market in Tanzania, in Dar es Salaam, not in Dar, but in a little village outside of Dar. This guy was very proud of his little distribution business. We were walking around this market that was mud. Literally, the pavement was all the garbage stuff that had been walked on, packed into the mud, to form this hard surface, but it was his market. He had this pushcart, and we went around to all the businesses that he served. It was a big thing for him. He was bringing in the senior vice president from Coca-Cola, and we were always very good about it. We always thanked the people for their business, and we always told them, "Let us know if there's any issues." I was really impressed by it.
I started looking deeper into this program, and we found out that not only was it being very successful as an economic advancement piece--because these businesses were doing pretty well--it had the added benefit--we hadn't figured on it--of really empowering women. The best businesses were run by women, and of the other businesses that were run by men, half of them had women who were doing the financial work. So, it really was this great empowerment tool for women. There are like tons of those stories.
When we really started doing the water work, I had a guy who had a small bottling company in Post [French] Equatorial Africa, underneath the Sahara. He had a small bottling operation, small town, small bottler in a couple of villages. We were at one of our bottler meetings, and I was talking about the progress we were making. He said, "You know, because of this, I had a village that was having a big problem with health, like eighty-four, eighty-seven percent infection rates." A lot of it was because they were taking their water from this river that had pollutants, and it was carrying some disease. The river's a long way away, so the women are getting bitten by mosquitos and stuff as they go back and forth. So, he said, "For the price of a one-way ticket for me from Johannesburg to Atlanta, I was able to drill two or three wells." He said, "Now, the incidence of disease is down to ten percent, because the wells are far enough away. They're in the aquifer, but far enough away from the river that they're not polluted by the river. They're cleaned as they go through the ground. So, it's dramatically lowered the disease rate. The way it's freed up women, who no longer have to walk to the river and back every day, they've expanded their gardens and their gardens are better because the water is better. They're now growing far more produce than they need to sustain, so they have something saleable in the market." He said, "Now, I'm seeing them biking into the town and selling their produce at the market." He said, "The payback for me is, once a month, on their way back, there's a case of Coca-Cola, and they bring it back and that's their treat." It's that kind of virtuous circle; it's what it's all about. I'm very, very proud of that work. When I left Coke, it's what I looked to do more of.
I left Coke, because the same old guy who had tried to float his candidates for CEO was still on the board and had another executive, who actually was a very good friend of Neville's--they had worked together--by the name of Muhtar Kent. He's a Turk. His father was the Turkish ambassador to the United States. He may [have] held dual-citizenship, I don't know. Anyway, he had been running Eurasia and then became president with the idea that he would eventually become CEO. Neville thought that he would; it would take a year or two. I started hearing rumors that it was going to take less than a year. Neville said, "No, no, no, I got this, I got this. You'll know by December. If we announce him as president in December, then it probably will only be one more year, but if we don't, then it'll be two or three." Sure enough, December came, and we announced that Muhtar was going to be president. I knew that Neville and Neville knew that Neville was on his way out. Then, we went through about six months of Muhtar being president and chief operating officer and Neville being CEO and chairman--actually, we only went through a couple of months of that. Then, they announced that Muhtar was taking over as CEO, and Neville would stay as chairman for six months or so, finish out the year. [Editor's Note: Muhtar Kent was the CEO of Coca-Cola from 2008 to 2017 and chairman from 2009 to 2019. His father, Necdet Kent, was a Turkish diplomat who served as the consul-general in New York and in ambassadorial posts in India, Sweden and Poland.]
So, I'm caught in the middle of the new guy, the old guy, and just trying to do my job. The same people that Harold Burson had warned me about, the old guard, the guy who had had my job and got sent to Russia got in trouble in Russia and they needed to get him out of Russia. He was a good, loyal Coca-Cola person, so they got him out of Russia, and the only thing he could do was what I was doing. So, Keough put pressure on Muhtar to bring this person back. Muhtar, who owed Keough his job as CEO and who knew this guy, agreed to do that, which left me with having one of those opportunities you can't deny, one of those offers you can't refuse, from Muhtar, and so early retirement was the best thing to do.
Fortunately, for me, I was well liked. We had done really well. People understood, no way around it, it's the politics of big business, and the CEO has the right to have people the CEO wants. They took very good care of me, two years of salary, all my options vested, all my equity stayed. I got over it fairly quickly and started thinking, "This is really an opportunity to go do something different." I turned sixty at the end of 2008, and I left the company in March of 2009. I was sixty. I was getting close to retirement. Financially, there really wasn't much of a concern. It really was, "What did I want to go do?" I didn't have to go do something that paid a lot of money, because I was coming out of Coke okay. It was, however, right in the middle of the Great Recession, and there weren't that many things. I wanted to go do something different.
Actually, I almost had two jobs in Switzerland in this go-around. Coca-Cola is a huge partner of the Olympics. They're one of the original corporate partners since 1922, so a very tight relationship with the Olympics. I had worked a lot with the IOC, IOC management, Rogge and all those guys around actually the Olympics in Italy in 2006 and then the Olympics in Beijing. [Editor's Note: Jacques Rogge served as the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from 2001 to 2013.]
The Olympics in Beijing ended up being a real nightmare for us because of Tibet. We were getting a lot of pressure from the Free Tibet movement to do something about getting the Chinese to back off Tibet. Because we had a big business in China and then because we were Olympic sponsors, there was all this pressure to use our Olympic relationship to put pressure on China to lighten up on Tibet. There were a couple of other sponsors in the same situation. Coke was the worst, but there were a couple others, the sports guys, Adidas or whoever was their [sponsor], were getting similar pressure. We, as sponsors and partners, really pushed back a lot on the IOC, and their communications just weren't very good. Their head of communications was not well positioned within the organization and, therefore, did not have really a whole lot of clout to move things along. Oh, McDonalds was also a very big partner. My counterpart and I at McDonalds really pushed heavily on the IOC.
I knew a lot of people. That didn't mean that those people necessarily liked me after we got done with the Olympics. All this stuff about leaving comes out, and IOC had decided to get rid of their head of communications and restructure. That was a piece of advice they took from McDonalds and ourselves. I talked to them about the job. I think they had five people come in into Lausanne. It was one of those weird things, "All right, five of you are coming, two of you will be finalists. We're going to talk to all five of you, then go out to dinner, and we'll let you know by dinnertime whether you can then go on home or whether you need to stay over and come back in the morning." I went through the [process]. My issue was I have zero French, and they're a very multilingual organization. I actually started taking French lessons, not very successfully, but I knew, going in, that I had a French issue and I had the issue that I had been difficult to deal with. My argument to them was I was representing my brand and my reputation and my organization, and, "Yes, we pounded it through, but we got it done. Don't you want something like that to make sure that IOC's reputation stays in place?" Yes, my French is really horrible.
I made the cut, went back the next day, met with Rogge, had the same discussion, used my little bit of French, to which everyone laughed. I went away and thought, "Eh, it's probably just not going to happen," but just didn't hear from them. That was maybe the end of '08, beginning of '09. In February of '09, Marti and I went to Peru, went to the Amazon, and then went and walked the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu and we just had a great time, a couple of weeks in the Sacred Valley, and it was wonderful. Just as I was coming out of the Sacred Valley, the IOC was trying to reach me, and they had finally made a [decision]. It was Rogge telling me, "Your French is just horrible and we need somebody who speaks French, so we're sorry, but we hired this other guy." I said, "Okay," but the guy they hired happened to be the head of communications for the World Economic Forum, which is also something we had been very much engaged with.
I knew Klaus [Schwab], who runs it, and they invited me to come talk to them, which I did. Klaus had said something about, "I want you to join us," and I said, "Fine." They had a recruiter that they used in the U.S., and he was supposed to get in touch with me to nail down money and other things. He didn't call and he didn't call. One day, he called, about a week later, and he said, "I have no idea what happened. I don't know, but Klaus just said, 'They'd made a decision to go another way.'" Those kind of things happen.
That then opened up--I was actually talking to Edelman about joining Edelman as head of their corporate practice and running their China business, and the job at Yale opened up. Yale had decided to change their structure, to upgrade the position. They did not have a strategic communications plan, and they desperately needed one. It was a job I could afford. [laughter] I didn't have to worry that much about compensation, although the compensation wasn't horrible. It was actually pretty good. It was this great opportunity to go to Yale. I went in saying, "I don't want to do this for the long term, I don't think, but I do want to help. I do want to see how I can use this to better society, because that's really what I'm looking for." Coming out of that Coke experience, I was looking for organizations that did societal good.
I went to Yale. It was just a wonderful place. I always used to tell people that I didn't move to Connecticut; I moved to Yale. It is its own little world, its own little bubble, walking around all those buildings. The nice thing about academics is that the pressure is not there. It's just different. It's not quarterly. I mean, I used to worry about quarterly pressure, and these are people who thought in terms of years. I mean, something happening quickly, it's like two years, which was a little frustrating for me.
They hadn't really talked much to each other. Even within, the communications function was broken up. Each individual unit had its own affiliation. So, creating this new job, they still sat in their units, but there was more connection to the center. Again, it took us twelve, eighteen months to draft a plan to get messaging straight. With them, it was never going to be everybody flying in formation. It was just getting people to sort of walk in the same direction, [laughter] sort of saunter along in the same direction. The idea of brand is very different. On the humanities side, there's probably more of a benefit by having me being associated with Yale. On the science side, that's far less so. In the early days, I had a couple of the big names tell me, "Look, Yale is as fortunate to have me as I am to be at Yale. I came here from Harvard or Stanford because I got a bigger budget, I got a bigger lab, and I got more post-docs." So, then, I had to say, "What can I do then to help you, to get you to come along with all this?" For them, it was really finding a way to improve their opportunities for funding, so getting them the visibility they needed in the right places to increase their funding opportunities. We did that, and that worked.
We got through it. We got almost to the end of two years, but it was because I had started late. There was a like a two-month overlap. We got to December, and I said, "Look, we don't need the last couple of months. Why should I go down and come back? We can take December to get refocused." I had a deputy that I had brought in, who had been the head of communications at the Yale School of Management, the business school. I said, "She's ready to go. She understands this, thoroughly invested, really good. She's set." They agreed. She took over. We came back to Texas fully expecting to plant olive trees at the place we had bought on Lake Travis and sit at the lake and retire and grow olives.
I left Yale, and I got a call from Richard Edelman, who had talked to me two years earlier about going to China. He said, "Look, I've got a proposal for you. You can do me a favor. The guy we hired to go into China," who's a guy I know and is a good guy, "I need to bring him back to run North America. The Chinese national that we think will take over the business isn't ready yet. If you're leaving Yale now, would you go to China for two years and be the bridge? Make sure this guy is the right person, train him, get him set, be there to be a set of trainer wheels for a while, and then you can come back home or do something else." I thought, "Hey, this actually is not a bad gig." So, we did that. We did a year in Beijing, a year in Shanghai.
The first year, I pretty much ran the business. We restructured it. There were separate pieces, so we put it together in a holding company. I spent a lot of time with the gentleman that they had identified, [Steven Cao]. He actually was the president of a Chinese business [Pegasus Communications] that they had purchased. The first year, we got that set, and the second year, I said, "Look, Steven takes over as CEO. I'll stay as chairman." I had a couple of--I had a big client in Mars, doing pretty much the same reputational work I had done at Coca-Cola, so it worked out pretty well. It was a good, big relationship that really helped the business. They were down in Guangzhou. I said, "I'll move out of Beijing," because we were just there with clothes, it wasn't a big move, "That way Steven has space, he can settle in to be CEO of the business. I'll go down to Shanghai, give them an extra senior person, and I can run Mars easier from there." The business was growing; we had to get a new office and all that stuff. So, I could handle all that stuff.
We traveled all over the place. We just had a wonderful time, ate really well. Our youngest, who, at the time, was fluent in Mandarin and could translate Chinese poetry, went to Phillips Academy at Andover when I left Coca-Cola. Maisie said--she was a freshman then--said, "We don't know where you're going to go," and she was right. I went to Yale for two years, and then I went to China. When she graduated, she did a gap year in China, so we got to see her in China. So, it worked out well.
I got them straight and settled. They went on, and I left at the end of 2013. Steven took over the business completely. He then got into trouble. Xi Jinping really had come in, was establishing himself, had this big thing about corruption. He went after CCTV, Chinese Central Television, and especially the business department, because it really was pretty corrupt. People were paying to get on, to get interviewed and stuff. Not that I knew this, I found out later. [Editor's Note: Xi Jinping is the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and President of China. He became General Secretary in 2012 and President in 2013. Guo Zhenxi, the financial news channel director of CCTV, was arrested in June 2014 as a part of the Chinese government probe into corruption at the state-run broadcaster.]
Steven had had a partner in the business that Edelman bought. When Edelman bought the business, Steven and his partner [Rui Chenggang] each kept like ten percent, with the agreement that if one of them left, they would sell their ten percent to the other, and Edelman would keep the other eighty. Well, as we got into forming this holding company, we had to bring it all together. We finally looked at the books, and we discovered that because Pegasus was doing things radically different, we had to change the bookkeeping. We discovered that the partner had not sold to Steven, which violated the agreement. So, we had to get him to settle. We got that settled.
I go away. Xi Jinping is in. He's doing this purge. Steven's partner had left their business and became the primary news anchor for CCTV. Everyone noticed that, "Hey, an awful lot of Edelman clients get on this guy's show," and when you look at it, he was still getting revenue from the PR firm that was sending the clients onto his show. What a disaster. Fortunately, the Chinese were not so much interested in this guy who was the TV personality. They wanted the guy who ran CCTV, so they wanted to sweat him.
The way things work in China is the party handles it. So, the police don't come and get you, because the party police come and get you. The party police take you away, and the party police interrogate you until you give them what they want. Then, if you're small enough, they throw you back. If you're big enough, they charge you, but what they're always doing is sweating you to get to the next person up the chain. So, they sweat Steven to get to his partner, and they sweat his partner to get to [CCTV].
It was a couple months after we were back, and I was checking in with the office. They said, "By the way, Steven's gone," and I said, "What do you mean Steven's gone?" They said, "Well, last week he just didn't show up, and this week, Chinese authorities came in and went through the files," and that was all anyone knew. Sure enough, Steven was held for about four months. One day, his doorbell rang, his wife opened the door, and there was Steven. [Editor's Note: Rui Chenggang, co-founder of Pegasus and celebrity CCTV anchor, was arrested in July 2014. He was sentenced to six years in prison for taking bribes. Following Rui Chenggang's arrest, Steven Cao began cooperating with authorities and then went missing, until reappearing in October 2014.]
Fortunately, he got out, but that got us in the middle of this whole investigation. So, then, I had to go in, and what Edelman did to halt the Chinese authority and the United States government--because there were questions about the Foreign Compensation Act--he had to agree to do an internal investigation, and so I had to do two days of disposition about how we ran the business. So, that was interesting. We came back and did that.
I did some consulting for that year of 2014. That got me to Carnegie-Mellon, because they were looking to restructure communications. First, we did a piece around how to restructure and really said they needed to appoint a vice president reporting to the president. They agreed to do that. They needed to do a search. So, they asked me if I would [do it]. I said, "I'll do it temporarily, but I don't want the job." So, I did it for about six months while we did the search, and we found them somebody. I guess he started in 2015.
Then, I taught. I taught first an undergraduate class. I taught a class in "Transmedia Storytelling," which is how to move a story across multiple platforms. It started out as an undergraduate class really, and then we moved it to a graduate class, where actually it worked [better]. It was fine as an undergraduate class but much better as a graduate class. I did that for a couple of years and then really stopped. My daughter had surgery, and that kept us busy. Then, we decided to do this Tower Fellowship at UT, and we spent the whole last year back at school. [laughter] Boy, was that a long answer to one question. [Editor's Note: The Tower Fellows Program at the University of Texas at Austin is a nine-month program that gives individuals access to courses, seminars and a distinguished speakers series at the university.]
KR: I am curious, when you were at Yale and Carnegie-Mellon, were there any crises that arose that you had to address in your messaging?
TM: Yes, especially at Yale. It was the time of all the Title IX stuff. It was the time when we had a couple of undergraduates who brought forward cases of rape that had to be dealt with and then had issues with the way they were dealt with. One of the fraternities--and there aren't many fraternities at Yale and they're off campus--the DKE fraternity marched its pledges around Old Campus, which is where all the freshmen are housed, in the nighttime, shouting, "No means yes. Yes means anal." Of course, [there were] thousands of videos of it happening, in the middle of all the Title IX stuff. So, yes, we had that to work through. [Editor's Note: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender in schools that receive federal funding. Title IX regulations, issued by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, define how institutions, including colleges and universities, must respond to incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.]
Really, I found the biggest issue was dealing with the actions of nineteen and twenty-year-olds, because things happen that they don't think about. They're in places that are wrong that they don't think about or recognize when things happen. We, at Rutgers, had to deal with kids who killed themselves. It's always a big deal. It's shockingly not all that unusual, once or twice a year, to have someone to commit suicide. Of course, ours, when I was there, it was a young man who went up to the top of the Empire State Building, waited for the top to close, and then ran from one side to the other and jumped and climbed over that big fence and dropped down, incredible. Yes, you have to [deal with] those things.
Carnegie-Mellon's an interesting institution, because it's very good, but it's one of those places that does not get the credit it deserves, I think, although every place I've ever worked will tell you that. It's got this great engineering school and it's got a great theatre and arts school, but they weren't leveraging each other. It was like two different universities, and they always had trouble putting it together. The big challenge with them was beginning to do a communications plan that covered the whole campus. So, there actually is an intersection, because there are engineers who get involved with the design of stage sets and stuff for the theatre side, so there is engagement there. There's plenty of STEM people who love theatre for their non-STEM stuff.
They're really bright. They're all really bright kids. Carnegie-Mellon, they're much quieter and much more focused, really focused on academics, a very, very academically-based institution, and the students are very academically focused. Substantial overseas populations, so substantial Indian, Chinese, Asian populations, not that Poles and Peruvians aren't academically focused. So, the challenge there was not so much flare-ups. [There were] one or two issues. There was an organization that did--oh, it was an organization that supported Palestinians and ran a pop-up restaurant that served food from cultures that were oppressed, leading with the Palestinians. There were some issues around that over time. That was a pretty straight-forward campus.
KR: To check in on time today, you probably have about ten minutes.
TM: Ten minutes or so.
KR: Okay. I just have a few more questions, just to wrap up.
KR: You have talked about your wife Marti. You talked about your three children. What else would you like to share about your family?
TM: Well, as I said, we have three daughters. One [Mary] is straight and married to a firefighter here in Austin and about eighteen months ago had our first grandchild, a boy, so a grandson. She's now just getting ready to [go back to work]. In this horrible economic environment, just got two job offers, so she'll be going back to work. The middle child [Caitlin] is finishing up her MFA at the Art Institute of Chicago. She's gender fluid, non-binary. She's a filmmaker and an illustrator. The youngest [Maisie] just finished her MFA at Hunter College and is a transgender woman, who has been the subject of a hate attack on the subway in New York City. Some guy attacked her with a knife or some kind of pointed object on his fist and almost took her eye out, made a huge slit, cut around her eye, but that's healing. Yes, one of them is traditionally settled and on her way, and the other two are stepping out into a pretty uncertain environment with backgrounds in film and creative writing. Marti and I worry about what the future holds for them, how to make a living, and be true to your art. We'll see how that journey goes.
KR: What is the Girls Education Mission, and how did you become involved in founding that?
TM: We've been involved in an organization called the Kapadia Foundation for a long time. It was started by a good friend of Marti's from their days in boarding school. Marti grew up pretty much overseas. She was born in Texas, born in Fort Worth. Her father was a lawyer for Texaco, ended up doing a lot of overseas work. So, the longest she's lived anywhere is Libya, pre-Gaddafi, for six or seven years. They lived in Libya. They lived in Nigeria. They lived in Australia. While they were in Nigeria, she got to go to away school to Switzerland. She went to boarding school in Switzerland, then came back and went to UT. At any rate, a friend from that boarding school experience started this foundation that supports women who were getting out of high school to go to college, because really in most places in the world, it doesn't cost that much, less than a thousand dollars to go to school. It gives them an education. They become really pillars of their community, and if it doesn't happen, there's a much greater risk to them. We've been involved with that. He has sponsored some four hundred students, and I think we sponsored forty of them, something like that. [Editor's Note: Founded by Pradeep Kapadia, the Kapadia Education Foundation (KEF) is a philanthropic organization that enables underprivileged students in developing nations to obtain higher education. Muammar Gaddafi was the dictator of Libya from 1969 until his death in the Libyan Civil War in 2011.]
That got us thinking that the next level down, there's even greater risk in high school students who need even less money, but if they're not in school, the likelihood is they're indentured servants, they're slaves pretty much some place, or they're sex slaves. They're taken away. It's really important to keep them in school. We started the Girls Education Mission to help fund those girls. It's still up and running. We've stepped away from it. It's now part of a larger NGO non-profit called MEDS for Africa, but it's still supporting that same mission, to keep girls in school. Both the Girls Education Mission and KEF don't give the money directly to the girls or to their families. The money goes to the schools, so that you're sure parents don't take it. It doesn't go sideways. [Editor's Note: MEDS for Africa is a non-profit organization that provides medical care and other services in East Africa.]
KR: What do you do on the Peabody Awards Board?
TM: That's a was, not an is. The Peabody Awards are considered the preeminent electronic media award. It's run out of the University of Georgia, and we review something between twelve hundred and thirteen hundred applications a year and award thirty Peabodys. So, it's a pretty rigorous process. It takes three months of--we meet together in person three times over the course of three months over long weekends, and then there's a full week. It's face to face and it's debate, and to win the Peabody, the entire board has to be unanimous. So, it's a big deal. I used to like to kid that I got there because I was working for Coca-Cola, and Coca-Cola sponsored the Peabody Awards. [laughter] So, they gave me a seat, which I kept even after I left Coca-Cola.
I ended up doing it for seven years straight, which is longer than most modern board members, and to chair it for two years in a row, which I was the first one to chair it for two years in a row. Then, I came back, I returned two years later, because they had a board member get sick at the last minute, and so I got to do it one more time. So, I've actually done it eight times, something I'm very proud of.
It's a process that I really believe in. I think it recognizes really great work, and it's something that's just based on excellence. We actually had a twenty-eight second public service announcement win a Peabody Award next to The Civil War [public television series] by [Ken] Burns. It can be that disparate, but it's, "Are they really good? Are they stories that matter? Do they make an impact on society and life?" It's great to recognize people from across the industry. It looks at radio stuff, but, increasingly, that's podcasts, so radio and podcasts and, now, largely podcasts. Podcasts has become a huge piece of it. Documentaries have become bigger and bigger pieces of it. There's some really well-done work. Entertainment, which increasingly comes from the streaming services. The networks are reengaging and doing better; and news, broadcast news. So, those five categories, more or less.
KR: There is a Rutgers assistant professor named Chenjerai Kumanyika who won a Peabody for his podcast Uncivil. [Editor's Note: Chenjerai Kumanyika is an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information (SCI). He is the co-executive producer and co-host of the Gimlet Media podcast Uncivil. Kumanyika and Jack Hitt won the Peabody Award for the episode "The Raid" in 2018.]
TM: Oh, Uncivil. Oh, cool, cool, cool, cool. Well, he should be well pleased. I know the podcast. I'm trying to think if I know it because I listened to it first at the Peabodys, and I think that was the case. At any rate, good, good on them.
KR: At this point, I want to ask you, is there anything you would like to add?
TM: No. [laughter] I think I put enough on your plate to sort through. I had wanted to remember a little bit more about my dad and his background because we hadn't covered that. As I said, my grandfather came over in 1903 from Calabritto. My grandmother followed a few years later with three of my uncles, one of whom eventually died. Then, my dad and another brother and sister were born in the U.S., and they settled in Garside Street in Newark, New Jersey. Then, I noticed, "Oh, they all moved to Sixth Avenue," and when I looked, I realized that Garside Street and Sixth Avenue intersect. They had just moved out of one house and around the corner and were there until my dad got back from the service. If you looked, doing my ancestry stuff, looking at it, it's all of his family and attendant Mattias--those other Mattias that we talked about--all running around that ward in Newark all by the cathedral. So, yes, I look at it sometimes and think, "It's a long way to come."
KR: Well, thank you so much for doing this oral history series with me.
TM: Thank you so much for putting up with me for three full sessions. I truly appreciate it. Let me know if there is anything else you need from me, and I know you're going to send some stuff, so do that. I wish you great luck with it, and thank you very much. You made it very easy. I appreciate it, and I hope you build a nice, big, substantial, important archive for the future.
KR: Thank you so much. Have a great night.
TM: Thank you. You as well.
KR: Okay, thanks.
TM: Bye-bye. Bye-bye.
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Transcribed by Jesse Braddell 6/23/2020
Reviewed by Zach Batista 8/26/2020
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 9/23/2020
Reviewed by Thomas Mattia 10/16/2020
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 11/9/2020