As Robert Woodruff settled into his role as President of The Coca-Cola Company, he saw an opportunity to introduce Coca-Cola to the rest of the world. To do this though, he turned his attention to Canada and the men running the business there for guidance.
Woodruff noted that time and again Canadian bottlers proved themselves inventive and determined. Bottlers like one in Quebec who sponsored a dog sled team in 1932 for the Eastern International Dog Sled Derby. The sled was decked out in Coca-Cola advertising and the driver – Ovide Carrier – refreshed himself with Coca-Cola throughout the event, reinforcing the idea that thirst knows no season. Or the bottler in Oshawa, Ontario who had the imaginative idea of selling Coca-Cola to workers at the local car manufacturing plant from roaming trucks. Or even the sales rep in Toronto who plastered the Canadian National Exhibition with Coca-Cola signs, assuring that the 900,000 visitors saw the words, “Coca-Cola” throughout the event.
It was clear that Coca-Cola was an established business in Canada and now it was time to send in some of Woodruff’s best men to not only ensure that Coca-Cola succeeded but learn all they could. In 1926, Eugene Kelly became managing director of Coca-Cola Canada. Kelly had worked with Robert Woodruff at the White Motor Company in Cleveland, Ohio and Woodruff knew him to be a keen salesman as well as a man who believed in rules and processes. With Kelly at the helm, Canada soon became the training ground for future executives and one of the most innovative markets for the Company.
John and Lee Talley – brothers from Alabama – both spent their early years in the Canadian operation. Lee joined the Company in 1923 when Woodruff became President, and went on to become president of The Coca-Cola Company himself as well as chairman of the Board in 1961.
John started as a syrup salesmen in Toronto, and became a vice-president with the Export Corporation, responsible for a new Coca-Cola division in the Middle East. With the challenges posed by its vast distances and extreme temperatures, it became clear that the path to leadership within the Company included time spent in the Canadian market.
Local men became executives within Canada as well. Many young graduates joined the Company after leaving school. One of those young men was Ralph Sewell who began his career as a route salesman after graduating from the University of Toronto. Through the years, Sewell slowly climbed through the ranks and became president of the Canadian office in 1958, then Chairman of the Board in 1966.
Canada proved to be the land of fortune and promotion for many within Coca-Cola and proof that Coca-Cola could succeed outside the United States.
Justine Fletcher is an archive specialist at The Coca-Cola Company and is currently helping Coca-Cola Canada celebrate 120 years of refreshing Canadians as part of Canada 150.