Archive for April, 2011

Coke CEO’s 2020 vision eyes global middle class

Coke CEO Muhtar Kent discusses his long-term strategy. (AJC Photo by Bita Honarvar)

Coke CEO Muhtar Kent discusses his long-term strategy. (AJC Photo by Bita Honarvar)

Right before I left Atlanta to learn about Coke operations in Asia about 11 years ago, then-CEO Douglas Ivester had a suggestion. He told me to ask company execs in China, Japan and Vietnam about their vision for their markets in 100 years.

As the newspaper’s beverage reporter at the time, Ivester’s suggestion seemed less odd to me than it might to you. Of all the companies I’ve covered, execs at Coke think further into the future than any others. The company doesn’t plan for marathons. It’s in the ultramarathon business.

That’s probably one of the reasons Coke is celebrating its 125th anniversary May 8. So with Ivester’s suggestion in mind, I asked current CEO Muhtar Kent how he views the next 125 years when I sat down with him recently. I figured someone on North Avenue already has the game plan detailed in a loose-leaf book divided by decades.

“In the world, 125 years is nothing, …

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Power Breakfast: Spirited debate on Briscoe Field, storms, Sunday alcohol, MARTA fares, Reynolds Plantation

About 800 people with competing visions for Gwinnett County’s Briscoe Field had their first public debate on Thursday night, AJC reporter David Wickert writes.

The sometimes emotional hearing at the Board of Commissioners meeting dealt with the possible privatization of the airport. At issue: Whether commissioners should rule out large commercial flights as they consider whether to sell or lease the airport near Lawrenceville, Wickert reports.

On one side were those who say big commercial flights would increase noise, drive down property values and erode their quality of life, Wickert writes.

On the other side were those who say commercial passenger service could create jobs and provide a needed boost to Gwinnett’s economy, Wickert writes.

Nothing was resolved. On Tuesday, however, County Commissioners plan to vote on whether to rule out the big commercial flights, the issue at the heart of the debate. That decision could determine whether metro Atlanta residents get …

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Has your loyalty to Apple been shaken?

I have a few Apple questions for you, but first an update.

Marketing and crisis-management experts told the Associated Press that Apple should have responded much sooner to concerns about location data stored on its iPhones — even if the company didn’t have all the answers ready.

The company took a week to deny that the phones track the precise location of their owners, AP writes.

As soon as it started selling the devices, Apple should have said how it uses, or doesn’t use, location data, Joe Marconi, a DePaul University marketing professor, told AP.

“The whole problem could have been a non-problem if Apple had done some kind of disclosure of this in some kind of a privacy statement,” he said. “Apple customers are fiercely loyal in a way we can say few (others) are today. With that comes a responsibility.”

In a list of questions and answers published Wednesday, the company explained that a data file publicized last week by security researchers doesn’t store iPhone …

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Power Breakfast: Bernanke creates new reality TV, immigration, Equifax, Aflac, AIG, Apple, NFL

There’s an interesting story in the Washington Post describing the new type of reality TV that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has ushered in with his first news conference Wednesday:

For Ben S. Bernanke, the past few weeks have included practicing answers for potential questions from reporters, getting comfortable behind a mahogany desk chosen as a set piece at the Federal Reserve’s first regular news conference, and, oh yeah, deciding what to do at a big meeting to set the nation’s monetary policy.

Members of the press corps who cover Bernanke spent the same period trying to dream up a killer question, asking readers and experts for ideas of what to ask, sweating whether they would get in a question at all. Cable business channels spent the day broadcasting from booths outside the Fed’s headquarters, with countdowns to the chairman’s first news conference ticking on the screen.

When the two sides met Wednesday, under bright lights and with a chorus of clicking cameras — …

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Athletes who’ve gone broke

Yesterday I wrote about a Gwinnett couple who managed to pay off $83,000 in credit card debt.

Today I ran across the following posting on CNBC.com that features the opposite story about wealthy pro athletes. It’s called “15 Athletes Gone Broke.” It was done by Daniel Bukszpan.

“In the annals of ‘easy come, easy go,’ few people see it come and go like professional athletes,” Bukszpan writes. “While it’s true that many take their salaries and invest them in sensible and enduring business ventures, many others squander their multimillion-dollar salaries on expensive cars, jewelry and mansions, and when the checks stop coming in, they have little to show for it.”

The CNBC list of athletes who lost it all:

Mike Tyson, Latrell Sprewell, Lenny Dykstra, Kenny Anderson, Michael Vick, Lawrence Taylor, Johnny Unitas, Dorothy Hamill, Jack Clark, Marion Jones, Derrick Coleman, Mark Brunell, Scottie Pippen, Antoine Walker and Tony Gwynn. (Check out the photo gallery.)

- Henry Unger, The …

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Power Breakfast: Southwest-AirTran merger OK’d, Delta loss, Coke gain, PlayStation hackers, Bernanke

Those waiting for years for Southwest Airlines to enter the Atlanta market can see the finish line now.

AirTran Airways’ sale to Dallas-based Southwest got the all-clear from the U.S. Department of Justice Tuesday, removing the last major hurdle before the deal closes next Monday, AJC reporter Kelly Yamanouchi writes.

The Justice Department’s antitrust division said it determined that the merger “is not likely to substantially lessen competition,” Yamanouchi reports.

The two airlines expect to officially complete the acquisition May 2. After that, it could take up to two years to fully combine the two carriers under the Southwest name, Yamanouchi writes.

The deal will bring Southwest to Atlanta, bringing a bigger competitor to go up against Delta. It will eventually spell the end of Orlando-based AirTran as its operations are folded into Southwest, Yamanouchi reports.

Southwest is expected to eventually eliminate AirTran’s baggage fees to align it with Southwest’s free …

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Gwinnett couple conquers $83,000 of credit card debt

This is a good-news column about conquering debt, brought to you by Courtney and Michael Wacker of Lawrenceville.

Courtney and Michael Wacker (Photo by Robin Henson)

Courtney and Michael Wacker (Photo by Robin Henson)

Buried in a credit card hole and staring at financial disaster, the Wackers managed to whack about $83,000 in principal and interest in a little over five years.

How they got into the mess — fairly typical — and how they climbed out — determination and good advice — can be an example for consumers facing similar messes.

“We had so many cards full of so much stuff that we started just paying the minimum. That was the big trap,” said Courtney Wacker, a 46-year-old former teacher who works in educational testing.

It wasn’t the house or car payments that got the Wackers in trouble. It wasn’t the two kids. It was the plastic.

“You charge it,” Courtney Wacker said. “It’s the American way. I’m going to pay it off later.” Only “later” didn’t come until after the mountain of debt was about to crush them. As their credit …

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Power Breakfast: Lower jobless rate battles higher gas prices, King & Spalding, NFL, Aaron’s, Apple and Google, Facebook

The health of the local economy will partly depend on how two figures in today’s news play out — 9.8 and 4.

Metro Atlanta’s jobless rate fell to 9.8 percent in March, from 10.2 percent in February, the labor department said. A total of 8,600 new jobs were created in a variety of industries.

But that good news is tempered by gas prices. AJC reporter Mike Morris writes that the average price of gas in Atlanta is heading toward $4 a gallon. It’s now $3.75 a gallon for regular unleaded — 29 cents per gallon higher than a month ago, and a full dollar more than the price one year ago, according to gasbuddy.com.

How much will the lower jobless rate propel our economy and how much will rising gas prices dampen consumer spending? The answer, which will play out in the next few months, will determine a lot about our short-term future?

Also in the AJC:

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Metro Atlanta’s jobless rate drops substantially to 9.8 percent in March

Metro Atlanta’s unemployment rate fell substantially in March to 9.8 percent, from 10.2 percent in February, the state labor department said Tuesday.

The jobless rate decreased because 8,600 new jobs were created in March — mostly in leisure and hospitality, wholesale trade, professional and business services, education and health, the labor department said.

“The unemployment rate decreased in Atlanta, as well as in all of the state’s other 24 local areas,” Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said in a statement. “This is encouraging, and hopefully indicates that a modest recovery may be building throughout the state.”

A year ago, metro unemployment was 10.1 percent.

For the five core metro counties, Clayton had the highest jobless rate at 11.9 percent. Fulton was next at 10.1 percent, followed by DeKalb at 10 percent. Cobb posted 9.1 percent and Gwinnett 8.9 percent.

Last week, the labor department said Georgia’s unemployment rate fell in March to 10.0 percent, down two-tenths of …

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Consumers repaying record amount of credit-card debt

Consumers are repaying a record amount of credit card debt — another sign that more are trying to get their financial house in order, according to a new report.

Last year, consumers repaid more than $122 million to their creditors through a national, nonprofit credit counseling group called CredAbility, which is based in Atlanta. It’s a 3 percent increase from 2009 and a record for the 47-year-old organization, which was formerly known as the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta.

Already this year, the numbers continue to rise. In the first quarter, repayments are up 9.5 percent from a year ago, CredAbility said.

While the Great Recession caused personal bankruptcy filings to soar, other consumers are choosing different paths. Some are beefing up their savings, some are reducing debt and some are doing both.

“Many consumers are deciding to take control of their financial lives by working with their creditors to pay down their debt, even if it takes 36 months …

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