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The CEO panel on "Leading Innovation" discussed the leadership required for both disruptive and sustaining innovation with executives (left to right) Greg Coleman, Craig Menear, Jonah Peretti, Muhtar Kent, and Walter Isaacson.
The CEO panel on "Leading Innovation" discussed the leadership required for both disruptive and sustaining innovation with executives (left to right) Greg Coleman, Craig Menear, Jonah Peretti, Muhtar Kent, and Walter Isaacson.
Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, describes the consumer's role in innovation.
Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, describes the consumer's role in innovation.

Scheller College and The Aspen Institute Hosted CEO Panel on Innovation Leadership

For the first time at the Scheller College of Business, the global executives of The Aspen Institute, The Coca-Cola Company, The Home Depot, and BuzzFeed met on campus for a conversation that examined the most disruptive ideas and game-changing trends in American business. The panel, held on Wednesday, Sept. 28, was co-hosted by the Scheller College of Business and Aspen Institute, and included guest panelists:   

  • Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company
  • Craig Menear, chairman, CEO, and president of The Home Depot
  • Jonah Peretti, founder and CEO of BuzzFeed
  • Greg Coleman, president of BuzzFeed

“Dynamic programs on leading innovation are held at Scheller College and on the campus of Georgia Tech as Georgia Tech is in the business of ‘creating the next’…The next technology, the next idea, the next solution, the next in education, and the next generation of business and organizational leaders,” said Maryam Alavi, dean of the Scheller College of Business. “We are delighted to partner with The Aspen Institute to host such a high caliber group of forward thinking business leaders through this CEO panel today.”

The Aspen Institute is one of the most highly esteemed organizations dedicated to open-minded dialogue on contemporary issues. Wednesday’s event was The Aspen Institute’s first visit to the Scheller College. Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of The Aspen Institute and best-selling author, observed that there are two types of innovators: disrupters and sustainers. He discussed the leadership characteristics required for both and said “You must realize that what you do really matters.”

He continued, “The next great disruption will be when people truly form communities.”

The presentation focused on what innovation looks like throughout today’s disruptive global marketplace. Panelists noted that being innovative means answering this question: “How would I disrupt (Your Company Here)?”

CEOs gathered for a conversation about the most disuptive ideas and game-changing trends in American business.

“We ask our associates if they were another company how would they attack Home Depot and that’s where we invest the money,” said Craig Menear, chairman, CEO, and president of The Home Depot. “We had to change internally to compete; we’ve seen more change in the last three years than in the past 30. We have to assess our strengths and weaknesses. The customer will always determine what is important.”

The dynamic thought leaders on the panel gave insight into how to successfully and swiftly innovate in organizational settings in a sustained manner. Menear described Home Depot’s strategy for sustained innovation, “You have to build and push where the customer is going. If not, you’ll have a pretty short mission.”

More than 400 community and business leaders, including numerous CEOs of Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies, along with students, faculty, and staff, gathered for the inspiring dialogue.

“In a way you have to dream a little bit to have innovation that you can commercialize,” said Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company. “A brand is a promise and a good brand is a promise kept. At the end of the day we want to keep our promises.”

Kent described that it’s about having the courage and creating an ecosystem around you. “We are moving from a world of mass marketing to mass personalization.”

Coca-Cola chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent joined the executive panel.

BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti and BuzzFeed president Greg Coleman spoke to their personalization efforts in addressing consumer needs.

“Our company serves the consumer in a deeper way – we work to give them value that they share with someone else,” said Peretti. “We want to integrate brands into people’s lives. You have to serve the whole human.”

Coleman added that “we are building something – it’s a part of our DNA. If we just wanted to settle the bottom line we wouldn’t make investments to create the media company of the future.”

The panel discussion brought together champions of innovation whose pioneering efforts are visible in the organizations they represent, including The Aspen Institute, The Coca-Cola Company, The Home Depot, and BuzzFeed.

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Susan Ambrosetti
Director of Marketing & Communications