It was a day before Christmas in 2015 when Inforati Philippines suffered uptime interruption. This site has been down inconsiderately for almost 14 hours a day for 3 weeks until January 10, 2016. Within that week, different problems happened: our Jetpack plugin & WordPress.org was disconnected, the email server was directed to the CPanel and I, as an administrator cannot log-in to the dashboard. With problems like these, who am I going to call? Not Ghostbusters but the customer support team of Arvixe (Inforati’s previous webhosting provider).
I contacted Arvixe’s support team through email but there was no response after one day so I contacted their support team via Live Chat. I contained my anger at first but they told me that their account management tool is under maintenance and other representatives said that it was my fault which in fact I have not updated my site for a while.They do not even send an email to their customers about the interruption and maintenance that they do. That is how terrible Arvixe’s Webhosting Service is.
After receiving that response, I cannot control my anger anymore and said bad things against their customer support. You know that kind of anger that you want to punch someone in the face so hard. However, this blog post is not about that, this is about the skills that customer support teams like Arvixe’s should master to solve problems effectively.
So, if you are seeking for a career in the call center industry, maybe you need to master these skills first:
1. Communication Skill. Communication is a broad topic, but I know that call center agents should focus on verbal and written communication skills. Call center agents should be good (if not excellent) in communication. They should know how to read, write and speak English fluently since English is considered as the universal language. If you want, you can check my previous blog post on improving your communication skills.
Based on the service that I received from Arvixe, I was not totally convinced that all of their customer service representatives are good in English. Some of them has to improve their written English skill.
2. Data-Entry Skill. Because one of the natures of call center is entering data, typing skill is an important skill that a call center agent should master. If you can type faster, you can handle more customers since call center agents answer issues in bulk. Check out my previous blog post on increasing your typing speed.
3. Calmness & Patience. Patience is indeed a virtue. Have you heard the Citibank (Phone) Scandal in the Philippines? Listen to this audio clip that became popular in 2009.
What do you think? For me, I can say that it was a terrible experience for a call center agent. I would have lost my temper and burst out hearing those bad words. If the person who handled that call was not calm and patient enough, he would have put the phone down earlier or he would have talked back in the same (rude) way.
4. Listening Skill. Listening is an important skill for call center agents. It matters to listen to customers’ concern not just hear what they are talking about.
5. Problem-solving Skill. We are all paid to become a problem-solver. Whatever we do in life, we earn a living by solving problems. In call center, problem-solving is a special skill that every call center agent has to master.
In the case of Arvixe’s customer support team, I just wished that they solved my problem fast and effectively but unfortunately, they did not so I transferred to a better webhosting service.
6. Technical Skill. A skill related to handling and troubleshooting computers is a must for call center agents. This skill is very important especially for Technical Support Representatives.
7. Professionalism. Customers may curse to or talk bad things to call center agents but still they should maintain professionalism.
8. Coping with Stress. Being a call center agent is a stressful job. Although I know that there is no easy and stress-free job, I really salute how call center agents wing out their stress. As a sense of advice, if you want to become a successful call center agent, I believe it takes practice, practice and practice to be able to handle a rude caller and not give up to stress.
These are the skills that I was able to brainstorm in the height of Inforati’s webhosting problem. After mastering these skills, you can add them to the Key Competencies section of your resume.
Just a note, there may be some skills special in some contact center jobs that are not in this list. If you are really passionate into customer service, I encourage you to do more research.
A near-death experience has a significant impact on a person’s life, though it takes the willpower of the person to survive, it still depends on how he/she views the experience.
In my case, the day of the super typhoon Haiyan was an experience that broke me and built me up as a better person. In the course of my painful struggle to survive, I realized that super typhoon Haiyan was a teacher who taught me lessons in life—lessons I can never forget.
I am a Taclobanon. My mother was born and raised in Palo, Leyte while my father was born and raised in Tacloban City. I was the second child of my parents and we were five in the family (without counting my half-brothers and sisters on my father’s side). We resided in San Jose, Tacloban City ever since.
Both of my parents have traditional Filipino beliefs and like many Filipino families, it was our dream to build a decent house, where all of us—my parents, brothers, and sisters can stay together. So on February 2013, my parents and my older sister together with her partner (who was staying in Manila at that time) agreed to help finance renovating our old house in San Jose. For months, it had been an inconsistent renovation due to insufficient money. Although I wanted to contribute, I still don’t have the financial capacity because I was just starting my career as an Account Officer trainee in a Microfinance business in Tacloban.
On October 23, 2013, just when the exterior of our house was getting painted, my sister, her partner, and their two babies arrived in our home in Tacloban City. Their babies’ names were Yanyan, 3-year-old baby girl and Abrahm, 1-year-old baby boy. It was my sister’s and her partner’s plan that she and her babies will stay with us until the babies were old enough for elementary education. In this way, they can save money instead of hiring a ‘yaya’ or nanny, and we can take care of the babies ourselves.
After 1 week of stay, my sister’s partner went back to Manila for work. The succeeding days we had together were the happiest family bonding we ever had.
On November 4, 2013, exactly 12 days after my sister’s and her babies’ arrival, a television news was reported that the strongest typhoon of the year will landfall at Guiuan, Eastern Samar and will strongly hit the Eastern Visayas region. Despite of the threat from the national news, we have been very stubborn and skeptic, perhaps because of the united feeling we had at that time.
Instead of evacuating our household, we helped each other brace our house. My sister’s partner called many times to convince us to evacuate because he knows the imminent danger of the super typhoon. Our neighbors also told us to evacuate; still our rational nature prevailed—we decided to stay at home—the most regretful decision we ever made.
The Eye of Super Typhoon Haiyan
About 5:21 a.m. of November 8, 2013, I woke up while my parents and sister were already awake. The wind was already strongly blowing. We checked the babies in their room and we saw them sleeping together with Zander—my 13-year-old brother. We got more nervous as the wind blew stronger every minute that passes. Then suddenly, the roof in our kitchen got damaged and the rainwater dripped inside the house. I thought everything will be all right, when all of a sudden, somebody knocked on our door—it was my uncles and cousins. Their houses were already destroyed and they went to our house to take temporary shelter.
We were 16 then inside the house—Mama, Papa, my brother, my sister and her 2 babies, my older half-brother, 2 uncles and 7 cousins.
What happened in the next minutes terrified us all—floodwater flowed inside the house and it was rising too fast. I went to my sister’s room and there I saw my mother—crying and praying with our statuette of Blessed Virgin Mary in her lap. My sister woke up my brother and she carried her baby Abrahm. Mother and I carried Yanyan. A minute later, another uncle and aunt went to our house to take shelter but we all decided to go outside the house because the flood will trap us inside.
We all stayed in a cemented cottage near our house. It was elevated that’s why we thought we’ll be saved from the flood. Also, it was behind a tall cemented wall that’s why we thought we’ll be protected from the strong wind. We were wrong. There we stood with the strength of the super typhoon in front of us. I was trembling. I felt so helpless and sorry especially to my niece and nephew for dragging them into that situation. Everywhere I saw was hazy and dreadful because of the strong wind and rain. House debris were flying everywhere. I saw our galvanized iron roofs detached from our house one by one and got crumpled like pieces of paper. I saw the walls of our house—cracked and fell like dominoes as the floodwater rose higher. I smelled our gas, probably our LPG tank was opened. Then, I heard something cracking. Seconds passed and a strong wave gushed toward us destroying the cemented wall of the cottage. I was shouting Yanyan’s name. While gasping for breath, I accidentally drank the salty water that’s drowning me, only then I found out that it was seawater. Some of us got trapped in the cottage while I saw my sister, mother and some of my cousins got carried by the surging water. After that, I don’t know what happened to everybody.
Next thing I know I was alone, holding anything I can—lumber, garbage, banana trees and house rubble while being carried by the storm surge. It was so cold out there. Each raindrop felt like a needle pricking my skin. The sound of the wind was deafening and the thunder was roaring above me. Unknown objects flew everywhere. Every time the wave hits a wall or a tree, the stack of garbage where I was holding on shatters and I was forced to let go of it. One time, I got on top of a floating refrigerator; while in there, I was dying inside knowing how horrible we have to go through because of our decision.
I wanted to sob so loud but I can’t say a word or shed a tear, perhaps because of the shock brought by the disaster happening so fast. I felt so tired and helpless; being in a position like that made me think that I was really going to die. I prayed and asked forgiveness for my sins. I recited ‘Our Father’ and ‘Hail Mary’—probably more than 10 times. While praying, I had difficulty breathing. Then, logs and house furniture compressed my body so hard. Each compression became stronger in each wave. It was so painful that I was about to vomit and I think that my body will rip in half if I don’t let go of the refrigerator. So I let it go and searched a different object to hold on. While struggling to hold anything, I found a plastic jug and held it so tight like my life depended on it—which it did. Wooden objects hit me at the back of my head and I felt my head was bleeding. I cannot swim any longer. I was so tired. I was slowly losing hope and I thought to myself—”Perhaps this is it, I was only destined to live a quarter of my expected life span. I was about to leave this world at the age of 20 years old.” I wanted to give up when I remembered something:
It was my high school graduation, and I was in the stage, in front of more than seven hundred participants and parents. My mother was emotional while I was receiving the salutatorian medal. For me, I knew that I acquired the medal for my mother—in return for her sacrifices for our family. It was her dream for us to graduate college because she didn’t have the chance to finish her studies. So I did my best in return of what my mother had to endure to send us to school. I cannot forget her sufferings while working as the breadwinner of the family. I can’t forget her misery about my father’s other women. I can’t forget her sufferings while enduring my father’s extravagance on his drinking and smoking vices. And I can’t forget her emotional sufferings brought by her faith that my father will change—although he didn’t even at the very last. She tolerated every problem that we had just to keep our family whole—to prevent us from having a broken family. As a child, I always remember my mother selling barbecues even on rainy nights just to support our studies. But like my sister, I broke my mother’s heart—I didn’t graduate college. I felt so sorry for her because she only wanted us to be together but this happened so unexpected at the most tragic moment. Mother’s time with her grandchildren were very short. Super typhoon Haiyan happened at the moment when my mother can already relax—the moment when I was inches to serving her in return for her sacrifices. What I promised my mother came to my mind: I promised her that I will finish my entrepreneurial education and I will avoid becoming like my father.
I shook off the memory and told myself that I have to survive—to fulfill what I promised my mother. I have to live for her. She gave up her happiness for us; I shall do whatever I can to make it well worth it. I swam to the best of my might, searching for something to keep me alive. Fortunately, I found a floating furniture to hold on. I did my best to survive. I did not care if I got stripped off my clothes; if my body got wounded by nails and unknown objects. And I did not care what I will look like after the super typhoon—all I know was I need to live.
Perhaps I was still lucky because the surging water carried me near a tall and sturdy tree. I gave my remaining strength to swim and grab its branch. I did my best to combat the strong wind to get to the tree. I grabbed one of its branches and climbed to the best of my might. And when I was about to get to the trunk, an unknown wooden object hit my head; I accidentally fell to the water. I grabbed objects around me before I sank deeper with the garbage. Then, after I gained my strength and got near the tree again, on my second attempt, I successfully made it. I embraced its wide trunk so tight. For hours, the tree protected me against flying objects, but my legs were still trembling. I cannot calm down while witnessing the destruction brought by super typhoon Haiyan.
While in that big tree, I was terrified of what I saw. I witnessed in front of me—air conditioner, wooden doors, galvanized iron sheets and trees—flying everywhere. Wounded people struggled to survive while getting compressed by lumbers and house debris. Unconscious people floated with the garbage.
I didn’t know how many hours passed when the water subsided. The strong wind slowly weakened and the rain stopped pouring. After the super typhoon, all I have with me were my blood-stained and dirty white t-shirt and my ripped shorts (fortunately with my brief). My legs were teeming with open wounds, my arms were wounded and bruised, and my head was bleeding. I was even lucky because I can still walk. I didn’t know where I was and where to start searching for my family members. Talking to other survivors, I couldn’t believe that I was carried to Barangay 87 from our house in Barangay 89.
I searched for my family and relatives. I met two of my cousins who also survived and we searched together. After hours of looking, I saw my sister. She was crying because she survived the typhoon but unfortunately, she lost her son Abrahm while they were carried by the storm surge. On our way to Tacloban City hall, we saw the destructed streets of Tacloban City—full of garbage and scattered house debris. Dead bodies were everywhere. We went to Tacloban City hall with our surviving relatives. There we stayed the entire night crying and with full of regrets and sorrow.
The next day, we went back to our place to search for our missing loved ones. Corpses started to smell unpleasant. Our area was like a ghost town, not a single house was standing in the area.
We found Zander’s and some of my cousins’ body under the fallen cemented wall where we stayed before the storm surge separated us. We also found the bodies of our other relatives near the place.
On November 10, 2013, it was my father’s birthday and he was missing. My father’s birthday was one reason my sister came home. On that day, we found Yanyan’s body far from our house. We failed to find Abrahm’s and my parents’ body. Many of my relatives’ body were also missing. On that day and the following weeks, we stayed in one of our aunt’s house which was less affected by the typhoon.
Three days after typhoon Haiyan’s devastation, in the place where the tragedy happened, we buried the bodies of our family members who didn’t survive—because their bodies were becoming more bloated as the day passes and stray dogs that survived were eating dead flesh in the area. I wept when I saw Zander’s and Yanyan’s body before getting buried. They were so young to die—my young rapping brother and my English-speaking niece. I couldn’t explain how heartbreaking it was—burying someone you love without giving them formal burial and not finding Abrahm’s and my parents’ body, at least to say our last goodbyes.
While in Tacloban, we were able to withstand the 8-kilometer walk from San Jose to the downtown area of Tacloban City—in order to charge recycled cellphones, fetch potable water, search for relief operations, and endure the long piles on almost everything. We were still lucky because my sister’s partner made his way to meet us in Ormoc City. He accepted my sister, despite of our terrible mistakes and stubbornness. After a few days, we traveled to Cebu via ferry then we rode an airplane on our way to Manila.
Meanwhile in Manila, it had been a six-month yearning for our family. I felt envy whenever I see happy families together. There were days that I woke up in tears because I kept dreaming of the tragedy. Some things and events triggered memories of our family; guilt grew inside me. There came a time that I blamed myself because I survived but I wasn’t able to save anybody. Whenever I remember our days before the super typhoon, I can’t help but cry. ‘If only’ factor comes to my mind: if only we’re obedient and evacuated our house, if only I can turn back time and save everybody, everything would have been all right. But unfortunately, I can’t turn back the time.
After Haiyan’s devastation, we had to start like a clean slate, and I knew that everything will never be the same. I felt that my sister missed her babies so much especially that she got blamed for Yanyan’s and Abrahm’s death. She missed our parents because she had been away from us for almost 4 years. Despite of everything, perhaps we both survived to help each other get through the trauma alive.
It took a long time before I recovered from my sorrow, but I knew I have to move on. Grief affected me and my sister differently. As for me, the physical and emotional scars brought by the super typhoon became my inspiration. Losing my family changed me a lot. My parents passed away, but their teachings and values live with me.
Lessons from Super Typhoon Haiyan
Just after I recovered from the trauma brought by the tragedy, I realized that typhoon Haiyan occurred to teach lessons in life—lessons taught in a wicked way.
First, it taught me how important judgment and decision-making are—the value of standing for the right thing to do. In fact, Haiyan pointed out in my head that decision-making is a matter of life and death.
Because of Haiyan, I learned to push myself beyond my limits. I surpassed my physical limitations. I almost fainted many times while carrying heavy water jugs and relief goods from downtown to San Jose, but I carried on and improved my weak self (Some of you will judge me but I’m honestly not one of the looters.). Haiyan taught me how to do things I never thought I can do.
Because of Haiyan, I got acquainted with new people who influenced my personal growth. I made new friends in Ormoc City and I got interviewed by a Korean reporter. I forgot his name but I will never forget him because of his cheering personality. He told me that he needed to smile because he wanted to give hope and somehow uplift the spirits of the typhoon victims. I realized that I want to be like him—being the light to people at their darkest times. I also realized how fulfilling it is—meeting new people—people with unique stories.
Haiyan taught me how to be brave and confident. Although I was not proud of being a survivor because I wasn’t able to save my family members, somehow it gave me confidence knowing that I survived one of the strongest typhoons recorded in history. Whenever somebody eyes me because of the scars in my head and arms, I just ignore them or sometimes I reply with an ‘If you only know the story’ look.
I had been in the eye of the super typhoon Haiyan; I realized that trials you thought insurmountable weren’t impossible to survive—especially with a strong self-belief.
Also, whenever I lose hope or get discriminated, I just look at the scars brought by the beating of typhoon Haiyan; then my self-esteem boosts.
Just at the time when we thought we lost everything, generous people and non-government organizations helped us—the people of Tacloban city—to bring back to our feet. NGOs did not only provide clothes, shelter and foods, they also donated their financial and emotional support at the time we needed the most. Without them, we probably wouldn’t have survived. They became one of my inspirations to live. They made us feel important because of their kind hearts.
I would like to sincerely thank Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, Action Against Hunger, World Food Program USA, OxFam America, World Vision, UNICEF, Philippine Red Cross, GMA Foundation, ABS-CBN, The Philippine Government, The US Government, and all other people, NGOs and non-profit organizations I did not mention. From all of us Taclobanons and Filipinos, Thank you very much! Your kindness will forever be treasured in our hearts.
In return to their generosity, I promised to join charitable causes when I can—to help other people in need. I also promised to share a part of myself in service to others, thus making our world a better place—another valuable lesson I learned from typhoon Haiyan.
The world is round. Who knows? Maybe one day, if we can’t pay the deeds back to the same organizations who helped us, maybe we can help other people in need.
I also discovered that there were many people around who sincerely cared—people who comforted me when I needed it. One day I will pay them back, maybe not in a monetary way but in one way or another.
Every now and then, when something triggers a family memory like a familiar song I used to sing with my brother or food that my mother used to cook—I can’t help but smile. I also thought that my family members’ genetic traits lived with me: my father’s courage, my mother’s intellect, my brother’s sense of humor and my nephew’s and niece’s cuteness (yes I am serious). I knew that with these traits, I cannot fail. I had been in the eye of the worst typhoon in the world and I lost people I loved the most, yet I can still smile and laugh. I know that like me, all the victims of the super typhoon Haiyan also can. And I know that Tacloban City will rise again—to an improved and better city.
Super typhoon Haiyan directed me to my dream career. Before the super typhoon devastated our region, I was just a timid Account Officer trainee in a Microfinance business in Tacloban city. Now, although I’m still timid, I became an Administrative Secretary and a Sales Agent. I have also built Inforati Philippines, a resume writing service and blog where I helped job seekers—mostly Overseas Filipino Workers—get jobs by creating professional resumes.
As Haiyan’s final lesson, I learned that negative and bad things happen to everyone. It is how we deal with those events that makes us different. It is time to move on and chase better experiences in life. Life is short—make the most out of it (but don’t do drugs). Live your life, do what you’ve always dreamed of—discover your strength and keep improving. Love your family, laugh every day, learn more, meet new people, help others and live a life without regrets… because you only live once.
I wanted to become a doctor when I was in elementary. When I was younger, I was fascinated with doctors’ medical procedure and I was passionate in helping people in need of medical attention.
When I was in High school, as nurses got popular and known to earn higher salary than Filipino doctors, I dreamed that I will become a nurse. My motivation during that time was to earn high salary.
Then, during my Junior year in High school, I realized my strength in Mathematics when I became the Best in Math of our class. So, the changing dream continues, because of my newly discovered strength in Math, I, then wanted to become a Civil Engineer.
When I graduated as the Salutatorian and Best in Math of our batch, I was very happy to go to College because I thought I can pursue an Engineering course but unfortunately, even though I have a strong self-belief to pass the Entrance Examination, I realized that my parents cannot afford to let me study Engineering. My dream of becoming a civil engineer shattered. It was so horrible for me that I almost lose my sense of direction in life. Then, I thought to myself, if I can’t become a Civil Engineer what would I rather be? Looking back to my childhood years, I was exposed to our restaurant and Videoke business. I would witness my mother handle the cash, few employees and the overall operation of our business while my father would act as the bouncer (aka security guard) and stop our drunk customers from doing dangerous things. I have idolized my mother for that and I salute my father for his bravery. But because of my father’s drinking vices, our business turned bankrupt and my parents were not able to save any money for me and my siblings’ education. Looking back to their mistakes, I wanted to learn if I can do better than my parents, so I decided what I want to be… I want to become a business person.
That’s the main reason I took an Entrepreneurship course. Mind you, I worked my way because my parents don’t have money to send me to college and because I was so late in applying for any scholarships. The only scholarship I earned was Student Assistant scholarship in our university’s Main Library and few Dean’s List Scholarship (later in my college years). At our university’s Main Library, I used to read books and research on the internet during my vacant hours. I learned any topic that I find interesting and useful for my career. I researched how to format a PC, how to use the Windows OS command prompt, how to build a simple website, how to use Photoshop, GIMP, InDesign and Illustrator. I also researched the basics of programming and the basics of hypertext markup language (html) (you name it). I learned all those things not because I had to, but because I enjoy learning them. I even made my way to mastering a 45-60 wpm touch-typing speed. At our university’s main library, I discovered my strength and passion with computer while studying Entrepreneurship and getting acquainted with the world of Accounting (I also had a short-term interest on my Accounting subjects.) With my four years being a student assistant, I became a Dean’s Lister for 3 semesters and because of that, I saved money for myself. Also, to support my studies, sometimes I would tutor Algebra and Math of Investment to some students coming from different sections and courses. That’s how I discovered and improved my own strengths.
How to Discover Your Strengths
Right now you might be asking, “Why are you talking about yourself? What’s your point?” Well, my points are: First, I believe, that like me, your dreams and interests have also changed because of different reasons. And second, because I am going to use my strengths as an example in this article so that you can also discover your strengths. Are you ready? Let’s go!
Your strengths come in 3 forms: Gifts, Loves and Skills. I am going to define each one and later I am going to show you how to discover your hidden strengths.
These are the strengths that come naturally to you. The talents that came with you when you were born (You know, the so-called God-given talents). Sometimes, our gifts are naturally seen while we are young, but when we grow up, we forget that we have those gifts because we don’t practice them anymore.
Reflect back to the things that you can easily do when you were just a kid or when you were just a student. It would be helpful to ask a friend that knows you best to assess your gifts.
The strengths that you enjoy doing. These are your passions—your interests. These strengths can be visually seen on your hobbies. What do you usually love to do on your free time? If money were no object, what would you do for a career? Sometimes you can build a successful business with your hobbies, but of course, not all the time, there are lots of considerations in terms of a successful business. But right now, that’s not our focus, we’re going to discover your passions that are applicable to certain positions in the job market.
These are the strengths that you learned through education, training, classes, jobs you have held, extracurricular activities, etc. What are the skills that you acquired in your 4-year education and your current job?
Discovering Your Strengths Worksheets
Now, we’re going to dig deeper in your strengths. I am going to let you download and fill-out some worksheets. There is no right or wrong answer but you have to answer each worksheet as honestly as you can.
Discovering Your Gifts is composed of questions that you need to answer so that you will discover your inborn talents.
Discovering Your Gifts (360° Feedback) is the second part of Discovering Your Gifts. Ask someone who knows you best to fill this out. He/she will assess you in discovering your gifts. He/she could be your childhood friend, your sibling or one of your parents.
Discovering Your Loves is composed of questions that you need to answer so that you will discover your loves and passions.
Discovering Your Skills is designed so that you will discover the skills that you have acquired throughout your career.
Based on my parents’ restaurant business where I was exposed to as a child, I decided to study Entrepreneurship and business.
Discover Your Strengths. Each worksheet has a Results section where you need to tally your top strengths, go and write your top recurring strengths. Then, after that, transfer each result in the Discover Your Strengths Worksheet. You will uncover your top strengths by tallying the most recurring strengths in the My Top Strengths section. Lastly, you need to discover 3-5 careers that best relate to your strengths.
In my case, I have chosen a career in resume writing, blogging and sales. As a resume writer, I use my graphic design skills in each resume that I write (whichever is best for the client). I have also used my computer skills and fast typing speed in writing resumes (especially when clients are rushing). Being a resume writer also requires excellent writing skills that is why even though I don’t have a natural talent in writing, I am improving my writing skills by reading books and taking online courses.
As a blogger, I use my teaching skills in teaching my readers how to create targeted resumes.
And as a salesman, I use my sales skills and my introvert nature to listen to my clients rather than push products.
Keep learning new things and absorb new knowledge everyday. The advice that says “Do what you love and money will follow” is not totally correct because love alone is not enough to a guaranteed success. So, correcting that advice, “Do what you love and it’s more likely that money will follow… but you still need talent.”
God didn’t look down one day and say, “Let there be Coca-Cola.” The Creator had nothing to do with this, unless you figure He had Coke in mind when he created Dr. John Stith Pemberton. Pemberton went to Atlanta from Columbus, Georgia, in 1869 and went into the patent medicine business as soon as he was old enough to wow an audience.
This was before we had truth in advertising and a Food and Drug Administration to watch over products that people ate or drank. So there was nothing to stop Pemberton from mixing a bunch of ingredients (the main one being alcohol) in the family bathtub, scooping the potion into bottles, and selling it as a miracle cure, which is what patent medicine was all about.
Pemberton’s product line included Indian Queen Hair Dye, Gingerine, Triplex Liver Pills, and an exotic concoction made of sugar, water, extract of coca leaf, kola nut, and caffeine. The label said it was a “brain tonic and a cure for all nervous afflictions,” and in his sales pitches, Pemberton claimed it could cure headaches, hysteria, and melancholy, and put the customer in a very fine mood. This was the original Coca-Cola.
The Establishment of Coca-Cola Company
Pemberton spent $73.96 on advertising in the first year, but he sold only fifty dollars’ worth of Coke syrup, so consumers weren’t exactly buying his story. Five years later, they still weren’t buying it, and Pemberton was tired of trying to convince them. So he sold the recipe, the equipment, the coca leaves, and the kola nuts to an Atlanta druggist, Asa Candler. Candler paid twenty-three hundred dollars for the whole shebang.
Candler was a religious man who preferred telling the truth to stretching it the way Pemberton had. He took the coca leaves out of the recipe, so by 1905, Coca-Cola was entirely cocaine-free. It’s a good thing he did, because otherwise people could have gone to jail for sipping Coke after cocaine became illegal in 1914. The revamped Coke recipe is the best-kept secret of the century, still guarded in the vaults of the Trust Company of Georgia.
He also changed the label, leaving out the part about Coke being a “brain tonic,” a “cure for nervous afflictions,” and other dubious claims. In 1916, he invented the curvy bottle that most of the world’s population can identify right away as a Coke.
In Candler’s factory, the kola nuts, sugar, water, caffeine—plus a few secret ingredients of his own—were boiled in giant kettles and stirred with giant wooden paddles until they thickened into a syrup. The syrup was sent out to drugstores, where druggists added soda water for the fizz and served Cokes to people sitting at the counters. Drinking Coke got so popular that druggists had to hire helpers, called “soda jerks,” to pour the syrup and apply the fizz. That’s how thousands of teenagers across the country got their spending money—working after school pouring Cokes.
The Success Story of Coca-Cola Company
In 1916, Congress slapped a new tax on businesses, and Candler was furious. To avoid paying higher taxes on his Coke profits, he sold the company for $25 million to an Atlanta banker, Ernest Woodruff. His son, Robert Woodruff, became Coca-Cola’s president.
Soon after they bought the company, the Woodruffs went public with it. In 1919, they sold 1 million shares for forty dollars apiece. This was a stock a lot of people wished they didn’t own, especially after the cost of syrup went through the roof. Angry bottlers protested the price hikes and threatened to cancel their contracts with the company. Lawsuits were filed. Coke’s sales went down, and the company wobbled on the edge of bankruptcy.
Thanks to Robert Woodruff’s serious cost-cutting, Coke managed to survive long enough to reach the Great Depression. This was a terrible time for most companies, but a good time for Coke. Even though people had very little money to spend, and went without new shoes, new clothes, and so on, they kept buying Cokes.
Here’s a useful piece of advice for investors: Act like a bloodhound and ignore everything except the evidence that shows up in front of your nose. The economy in the 1930s couldn’t have been worse, but since Coke was very profitable, the stock price rose from $20 in 1932 to $160 in 1937. Imagine making eight times your money when everyone around you was predicting the end of the world.
Robert Woodruff ran Coke for thirty years, dodging reporters, trying to keep his name out of the papers. He had several houses and at least one big ranch, but other than that, he spent modestly for a multimillionaire. Apparently, he never read books and rarely listened to music or looked at a painting, unless it had a duck or a deer in it. He gave parties, but only because he had to.
Just as Coke had benefited from one calamity, the Great Depression, it benefited from another calamity, World War II. People around the world saw the GIs drinking Coke, and they decided to imitate their heroes by doing the same. The GIs were the most effective unpaid sponsors in the history of commercial advertising.
It was after the war that Coke became the first truly multinational company. Coke’s snazzy red billboards were seen on walls and buildings on six continents—sometimes, they were used to cover holes in the buildings. Coke became a symbol of the American way of life, which is why the communists in Russia hated it. (In the 1970s, the Russian leaders signed a contract with Pepsi!) Our missiles were aimed at the Russians, and their missiles were aimed at us, and they worried about the fallout from a soft drink. Even in France, the Communist party tried to ban Coke.
To get the full benefit from owning Coke stock, you had to be patient for two decades, until 1958, when the price took another flying leap. Five thousand dollars’ worth of Coke shares in 1958 was worth nearly $100,000 by 1972. There aren’t many chances in life to turn $5,000 into $100,000 in fourteen years, unless you win the lottery or do something illegal.
In the crash of 1972, Coke suffered along with all the other stocks, dropping a quick 63 percent and not gaining it back for three years, until 1985. But once again, patience was rewarded when the stock price took another flying leap and Coke turned $5,000 into $50,000 from 1984 to 1994.
In a fight between communism and Coca-Cola, Coke won hands down, because while the communists have gone out of business, Coke is still going strong. As it turns out, its biggest threat didn’t come from the Russians. It came from Pepsi.
To think that Coke could have bought Pepsi for next to nothing in the 1930s, when Pepsi wobbled on the edge of bankruptcy. But it didn’t happen, and Pepsi came back to haunt Coke fifty years later. In 1984, Pepsi was outselling Coke in the U.S. market, and the brains at Coke headquarters were forced to launch a counterattack. In the heat of battle, they invented diet Coke, which changed the soft-drink industry and took millions of excess pounds off the waistlines of the human race. Without the pressure of Pepsi’s competition, Coke might never have thought of diet Coke.
The Woodruff era ended in the mid-1950s, when Robert Woodruff went into retirement, when he passed the time giving away his money. He donated hundreds of millions to medicine, the arts, and Emory University, and he gave the land on which the Center for Disease Control and Prevention was built in Atlanta. He opened his wallet to the Atlanta Art Center Alliance, even though he never liked going to museums and symphonies. Many of his gifts were anonymous, but people figured out Woodruff was responsible—who else in Atlanta was that rich and that bighearted? They started calling him “Mr. Anonymous.”
Roberto Goizueta took over the reins at Coke in 1981, and serves as chairman to this day. He and Don Keough, Coke’s former president, made a fabulous team. They have pushed international sales to the point that people in 195 countries are drinking Cokes the way they once drank water. Given the sorry condition of the world’s water supply, they may be better off drinking Cokes than drinking water.
Goizueta is a story in himself. He comes from a wealthy farming family in Cuba that lost its property in the Castro revolution. He worked for Coke in Cuba, then transferred to a Coke office in the Bahamas after Castro took power. From there, he moved to Coke headquarters in Atlanta, where he worked his way up the corporate ladder.
There’s no end in sight for Coke’s popularity worldwide, but it’s taken Wall Street a long time to catch on to this. Some “experts” haven’t caught on yet.