Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Coke boss's new brand of capitalism

June 28, 2010: 11:02 AM ET

By Patricia Sellers

You've probably heard of inclusive capitalism. That's the call for companies, in all their decision-making, to consider what's good for society.

Photo: Asa Mathat

There's also creative capitalism. That's Bill Gates' rallying cry for a new economic system where, as he said in a 2007 speech at Harvard, "market forces work better for the poor."

Now Neville Isdell, the former CEO of Coca-Cola (KO), is floating another name for "how business has to change," he says. He brands his twist "connected capitalism."

"It's beyond CSR," Isdell said, referring to the well-worn concept of corporate social responsibility, during a panel about fostering social equity at the Global Forum here in Cape Town. Isdell (who, a half-century ago, went to college in this shiny South African port city) called for businesses to "build links" with civil society and government.

This isn't ordinary altruism from any ordinary CEO. Isdell is the guy who revived Coca-Cola, after years of dismal performance, both financially and in terms of its social-responsibility profile. (During Isdell's CEO tenure from 2004 to 2008, Coke returned to Fortune's list of Most Admired companies; it ranked No. 12 last year.)

Coming from Coke, Isdell also knows a bit about branding and selling an idea. Now retired and dividing his time between France, Barbados, and Atlanta (as well as Detroit, since he's on the General Motors board), Isdell is working with Coke and several other Fortune 500 companies -- General Electric (GE), Home Depot (HD), and UPS (UPS), among them -- and Georgia State University to, um, connect business and academia with his brand of capitalism.

Charging that universities and business school focus way too narrowly on financial metrics, Isdell says, "Youth are asking, 'What's your value system? What do you stand for?" He adds, "The companies that will win are socially conscious."

"I'm not a certified social worker for nothing," Isdell joked when I ran into him at the Global Forum this morning. Social worker? When Isdell was 22 years-old, he was trained to be a social worker, he told me, and he has a framed certificate to prove it.

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