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12 Timeless Quotes from Don Keough

“If we are fortunate in our lives, we get to know one or a very few great people,” John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, wrote on Feb. 24. “Don Keough was a great man.”

Keough had passed away just a few hours earlier at the age of 88. In the days that followed, Sicher and countless other journalists who’d gotten to know the former Coca-Cola president and COO over the years shared their memories of a man who leaves behind a legacy of leadership, ambassadorship and goodwill. They praised his business savvy and boundless thirst for knowledge, of course, but also his gifts as a truly authentic communicator who inspired those he worked and interacted with.

“One of his great gifts was his ability to make other people feel important,” Sicher added. “When you were with Mr. Keough, you felt his laser focus on you and what you were saying.” 

Reading quotes like these about Keough motivated us to assemble a few of the many memorable quotes Keough himself delivered over the years – in speeches, books, interviews and more. Here are 12 of our favorites: 

“I’ve learned there is such a thing as luck. Good and bad. But I’ve also learned there is such a thing as preparation… and that luck tends to come to people who are prepared.”

“You can’t do much in life if you’re determined not to make mistakes. But I’ve also learned there is such a thing as accountability. We can’t have leaders in business who are not accountable for their actions. No one expects perfection in a fellow human. We do, however, expect him to be accountable and to take steps to correct his mistakes.”

“When you’re comfortable, the temptation to quit taking risks is so great, it’s almost irresistible. And failure is most inevitable.”

“Businesses are the product and the extension of the personal characteristics of its leaders – the lengthened shadows of the men and women who run them.”

“Some critics will say Coca-Cola made a marketing mistake. Some cynics will say that we planned the whole thing. The truth is we’re not that dumb and we’re not that smart." (At the 1985 press conference announcing the return of ‘classic’ Coke following consumer backlash to New Coke)

“What separates those who achieve from those who do not is in direct proportion to one’s ability to ask for help.”

I happen to believe very strongly in one lesson I've learned in my years in business: There is simply no limit to what a human being can do if he believes in what he's doing." 

“There is no such thing as business ethics. Just ethics. It’s not separate from the rest of your life." 

“There's a terrible tendency for people to look at what they've accomplished. That's why it's always interesting to stand by a river, because you never look at the same river twice. The only place to look is upstream because that's where the future is. You have to look as far upstream as you can.”

“I define my role as president of The Coca-Cola Company very simply: It is to protect and enhance the trademarks of the company.”

“The brain is like a sponge. If you let it get dry, you can peel it off bit by bit. To have output, you have to have constant stimulus and input.”

“It doesn't matter what you are if your recipe of life doesn't have the one ingredient that you're going to need if you want a life of achievement, a life by which you feel fulfilled. The one essential ingredient is passion. Passion for what you do. Passion for your friends and your family. Passion for life.”

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