Gary Fayard returns to Atmore to entertain, inform Banquet crowd
By Paul Keane
Crossing a wide range of topics – and offering prizes for answers to trivia questions – Atmore native Gary Fayard entertained and informed the audience at Tuesday night's 57th Annual Membership Meeting of the Atmore Chamber of Commerce.
Fayard, who was born and raised in Atmore, is the son of Sarah Fayard and the late Elam P. Fayard. He is married to Nancy Shell, the daughter of Mayor Howard and Nanette Shell. He and his wife have two sons, John and Chris, and they live in Atlanta, Ga., where Gary is senior vice president and Chief Financial Officer for the Coca-Cola Company.
And while he is a top executive for one of the largest companies in the world, Fayard was quick to point out that Coca-Cola likes to remain close to its local roots.
"Coca-Cola is the biggest local company in the world," he told the audience. "We operate in 200 countries and reach about 98 percent of the world's population. We have one of the most extensive distribution systems in the world and continue to grow.
"The great thing about our business is that people get thirsty every day. We sell over 1.2 billion eight-ounce servings of Coca-Cola products each day and, in the United States, every man, woman and child – on average – consumes one of our beverages each day."
With more than 250 different beverage offerings, Coca-Cola also sold more than 2.5 billion cases of non-carbonated drinks this past year in a market the company really didn't pursue until about three years ago. Now, Coca-Cola is the largest non-carbonated product producer in the market with only a seven percent market share, something Fayard says proves just how fragmented that market is.
That doesn't mean his company should forget the main focus of what's made it successful, the CFO said.
"We have to adapt to consumer and customer needs," Fayard said. "It's about about giving people great customer service. A big part of our success is being a part of the local community and being a good corporate citizen."
Fayard used the local Pepsi distributorship as a case in point on being connected with the community spelling success for a company.
"The best example in Atmore of being connected with the community is what Cooper Matthews has done here," he said. "Let's face it, and this hurts to admit, but this town is blue. In case you haven't noticed, Coca-Cola comes in red cans and bottles.
"But that's because Cooper walks the streets, joins local civic clubs and connects with the community. He knows what being local is and about connecting with the community.
"I promise you that Coca-Cola will be making that same kind of commitment in the near future."
Fayard also gave his outlook for the economy during the year 2003, painting a picture that may not be as rosy as some people would like.
"First off, let me say that I do forecasting of economic factors, foreign currency and other matters all the time, and I am usually wrong," he said. "But, globally, I think times are going to be tough economically. I believe the dollar will continue to weaken slightly this year, especially against the Euro. That's good if you are looking to do business overseas because you'll be able to be a little more competitive.
"And I think you'll see pension plans lower their expected returns and earnings. I also believe that interest rates will rise slightly throughout the year but still remain low."
On the day it was being announced in Chicago, Fayard said President Bush's tax cut/economic stimulus plan could have a solid effect on stock prices if it is passed.
"I think it will be interesting if the President's tax plan goes through," he said. "If it passes and cuts the tax on dividends, I think you'll see dividends on stocks increase slightly because there will be no tax on them. So many companies try to keep their dividends low because of the tax crunch, and I think you'll see those go up if the tax cut plan passes."
Fayard said he doesn't see many radical changes for his own company.
"Two things that we did in the past year that we just felt was the right thing is that we are now going to expense options," Fayard said. "The other thing is that we are no longer giving earnings guidance to Wall Street.
"Many companies, if their earnings are going to be off a penny this quarter, they will do everything they can to find or make up for that penny. We are just going to say that we are off a penny for the quarter then work harder to make that up by the end of the year. We're managing for the long term, not for the quarter.
"But, mainly, I see Coca-Cola as thousands of small companies serving many communities, and we plan on remaining in that capacity."
Fayard said he also won't change his philosophy on one other aspect of his life.
"I travel a lot, and I'm on Wall Street quite a bit and meet a lot of analysts and other business and industry leaders," he said. "At some point, they always ask me where I'm from and I am very proud to tell them that I am from Atmore, Alabama."