Christopher Adams

The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Parting shot by Coke boss

Kiwis' 'love to hate' relationship with big business criticised as unhealthy and damaging.

George Adams thinks Coca-Cola products are unfairly targeted by anti-obesity campaigners.  Photo / Richard Robinson
George Adams thinks Coca-Cola products are unfairly targeted by anti-obesity campaigners. Photo / Richard Robinson

The outgoing boss of one of our largest firms has taken a parting shot at New Zealand's attitude towards big business, saying an ingrained anti-corporate mentality is stifling the growth of companies.

Northern Ireland-born George Adams, who has been at the helm of Coca-Cola Amatil's local operations for the past nine years, has announced he will step down from the role of managing director at the soft-drink maker in June and return to Europe.

The 46-year-old said he would miss New Zealand greatly but this country's "love to hate" relationship with big business was damaging.

"I don't think it's healthy for the country," said Adams.

"I think it's part of the tall poppy syndrome."

He said that while entrepreneurs were admired in New Zealand, big businesses were seen as "nasty and untrustworthy".

An anti-corporate mindset resulted in many businesspeople being happy with their firms remaining small.

Adams said too few Kiwi company owners were taking the risks required to grow their businesses into bigger, export-driven organisations.

"We need more entrepreneurs and small companies to become big companies."

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said it would be unfair to say New Zealanders were hostile towards corporates, but people were often suspicious of big businesses.

"We don't tend to champion [business] people," Campbell said.

He agreed that this country needed more large companies.

"There are difficulties expanding beyond the shores of New Zealand, that's one of the problems, and the other is just basically a lack of ambition," Campbell said.

Sydney-based, ASX-listed Coca-Cola Amatil announced the news of Adams' departure to staff yesterday, saying he would be replaced by Barry O'Connell, from the Republic of Ireland, who is currently the general manager of the Athens-based Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company's operations in Austria and Slovenia.

Adams, a father of two who previously worked for Coca-Cola Hellenic in Nigeria, said his wife had followed him around the world for 20 years and it was the right time to head back to Europe, where he is pursuing a role with a Coca-Cola bottling firm.

He had set out to make Coca-Cola Amatil the country's most profitable, fast-moving consumer goods company and the firm had achieved that goal, Adams said.

Coca-Cola Amatil reported a net profit of $66.6 million for its New Zealand operations in 2011, up from $47.9 million in the previous year, according to documents lodged with the Companies Office.

Revenue for 2011 came in at $511.6 million.

Sipping on a Coke Zero while talking to the Business Herald, Adams said he thought Coca-Cola products were unfairly targeted by anti-obesity campaigners.

"The research will show that we are [responsible for] 1 or 2 per cent of people's calorie intake, but yet we're being basically told that we're responsible for 100 per cent of the obesity issue - that's obviously not the case."

Adams said the company had a role to play in increasing awareness of the dangers of obesity and a new advertising campaign launched by Coca-Cola in the United States, which acknowledges the high sugar content of its products, was an example of this.

He said there was a "strong possibility" that similar advertisements would air in New Zealand in the near future.

- NZ Herald

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