1999 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Never let your memories be greater than your dreams."
The only child of factory workers, Doug Ivester was born in 1947 in New Holland, Georgia, a small, rural community outside Gainesville. His father worked at the local textile plant, which was the town's major employer. His mother stayed home for the most part until Ivester was in high school, when she started working at a small motors factory nearby. Ivester describes his parents as hard-working. "They instilled in me an appreciation for hard work, but more than that they instilled in me a real sense of opportunity," he says. According to Ivester, no one in New Holland had a great deal of money, but he grew up believing that he could make something of himself if he studied and worked hard. "One thing I learned early in life was to never let my memories be greater than my dreams," he says.
Young Ivester began working odd jobs at the age of eight, cutting grass, working on farms, raising chickens, and eventually doing construction work. By the time he was in high school, he was working 35 hours a week at the local Kroger store, saving money for college. He knew he had to get an education to make his dreams come true. "My parents were great believers in education," he says. They encouraged their son to be the best he could be and Ivester became an achiever in school. Still, he remembers that when he brought home a straight-A report card his father would ask, "Don't they give A-pluses?"
Ivester enjoyed school. He had many friends and was elected senior class treasurer. Still, he describes himself in those days as a "serious kid" and says that when he wasn't studying he was usually working. His determination to succeed began to emerge when he was working as a grocery bagger in high school. He wanted to become a cashier so he could stop hauling groceries in the cold, wet weather. His boss, however, didn't believe a high school student was capable of becoming a cashier. Ivester convinced him to let him learn the job in his off hours to prove he could do it. After four months, his employer relented and Ivester had the job he wanted.
Setting goals for his future was a habit Ivester began as a youngster. Extras, such as vacations, were few. He remembers watching the opening of Disneyland on television when he was eight years old and thinking to himself, "I'll never get to go there." Today he thinks that much of his determination to succeed was motivated by his desire for new experiences and fulfilling his dreams. One day, while carrying a bag of groceries out for a customer, he noticed a Pontiac GTO. "It was my dream car at the time," says Ivester. He asked the owner of the car what he did for a living, and when he heard the man was a CPA he thought, "If I could drive a car like that being an accountant, then I'll be an accountant." Of course, Ivester's career choice wasn't entirely that simple. Math was one of his better subjects and he enjoyed it. He enrolled at the University of Georgia in Athens in 1965 and majored in accounting. He graduated with honors in 1969.
Ivester began his career with Ernst & Ernst in Atlanta in 1969. At first, he was assigned to do Medicaid audits at nursing homes, which Ivester describes as dreary work. Still he learned an important lesson. "In the process of learning how to conduct an audit I learned how to develop a plan, get in, work with people, get the information I needed, and get out. I had to complete one of those nursing home audits every week for more than a year. But the capacity I developed for planning and developing a routine really served me well, and continues to today. It's the least glamorous part of management, but it's indispensable to good management," he says.
Ivester became a member of the audit team for The Coca-Cola Company account. When he received an offer to join The Coca-Cola Company as assistant controller and director of corporate auditing, he felt torn. He thought he had a good future at Ernst, but he also thought Coca-Cola might lead to greater possibilities. "My father taught me growing up that when I was faced with a fork in the road, I should choose the direction that would leave me with the most possibilities. The University of Georgia gave me possibilities. Going to Ernst gave me possibilities. Coming to Coke gave me whole new possibilities. That advice has guided me my entire life."
Ivester quickly rose through the financial ranks of the company before being elected vice president and controller in 1981, the youngest vice president in the company's history. By the age of 37, he was the company's chief financial officer. In 1989, Ivester took on operating responsibility when he became president of the company's European Community Group. A year later, he was named president of Coca-Cola USA. The following year he became president of the company's North America business sector. In 1994, Doug Ivester was elected president and chief operating officer and a director of the company. In 1997, he was elected chairman of the board and chief executive officer of The Coca-Cola Company, the tenth chairman in the company's history.
Today, Ivester's advice for young adults is "to keep learning. It's also important to treat others with respect. Keep your promises-when you say you're going to do something, do it. Be polite. Deal with people honestly. Help others."
Ivester is proud of the fact that he was the first member of his family to go to college. "That made a tremendous difference in opening up opportunities in my life." Of his Horatio Alger Award, Ivester says, "It is a tremendous honor for me. To be mentioned in the same list with so many genuine heroes of mine is unbelievable. Our dreams come true, usually, because somebody, somewhere, helped us along the way. I hope as a Horatio Alger member I can help inspire someone so their dreams will always be greater than their memories."