In 1997, Roberto Goizueta, one of the world’s most renowned business leaders, suddenly died. He was known for leading the renaissance of The Coca-Cola Company from 1981 when he became the company’s chairman, until his untimely passing 16 years later.
During this decade-and-a-half tenure, Coca-Cola rose from having a value of $4 billion to $150 billion, or a 3,500 percent increase. Coca-Cola became the country’s second most valuable corporation. And Former President Jimmy Carter even recognized the Cuba-born Goizueta’s extraordinary leadership skills and achievement of helping thousands of lives.
When Goizueta was diagnosed with lung cancer and lost the battle six weeks later, the company and its stockholders did experience grief for losing a beloved leader. However, there was no sense of panic from among them, as is normally the case when large companies unexpectedly lose a leader. They knew that the company was in good hands.
Goizueta was not just an exceptional leader; he was also able to create an effective succession plan. He began grooming Doug Ivester as early as 1989 to take over the organization eventually. At the time, this was uncommon in many organizations because they would rather hire leaders from the outside than invest heavily in bringing people up.
John Maxwell, author of numerous best-selling leadership books, used this example to describe what he calls as the “Law of Legacy.” This principle explains that the lasting value of any leader can be assessed through succession. A leader is considered successful when he can leave behind an organization that can carry on and achieve greatness by itself.