Just thirty-three years old when he took command of The Coca-Cola Company in 1923, Robert Winship Woodruff shaped the fledgling soft drink enterprise and its bottler franchise system into a corporate giant with the world's most widely known trademark. A man of enormous stature and personal magnetism, Mr. Woodruff's influence over the affairs of The Coca-Cola Company was absolute until his death in 1985.
Robert Winship Woodruff was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1889 and soon moved to Atlanta, where his father Ernest became president of The Trust Company of Georgia. An indifferent student, young Robert wasted no time in making his mark in business. Beginning as a salesman for the White Motor Company in Cleveland, Ohio, Mr. Woodruff's compelling personality quickly made him the company's most successful salesman, and he was soon promoted to vice president and general sales manager.
Meanwhile, Mr. Woodruff had invested along with many other Atlantans in The Coca-Cola Company, which had been acquired and taken public by a syndicate led by The Trust Company of Georgia. After the acquisition, the company fell on lean times. Mr. Woodruff was persuaded to return to Atlanta and become its president.
During the next six decades, Mr. Woodruff established a remarkable record as a businessman and philanthropist. Mr. Woodruff gave anonymously to many institutions, a number of which owe their very existence to his generosity. Much of his philanthropy was directed through the Trebor Foundation, established in 1937 (renamed the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation following his death). The Foundation received funds from the estate of Mr. Woodruff's wife, Nell Hodgson Woodruff, who died in 1968, and from Mr. Woodruff's estate. The Woodruffs had no children.
Mr. Woodruff and his brother also presided over the Emily and Ernest Woodruff Fund, a separate charitable foundation whose assets of approximately $105 million were distributed in 1979 to Emory University.
An ardent outdoorsman, Mr. Woodruff lived life to the fullest and was a loyal and generous friend to many. He was quick to give credit to others, while dismissing his own success. One of Mr. Woodruff's favorite quotes illustrates his philosophy:
When I compare the things I've lost with the things I've gained, and the things I've missed with what I might have attained, there is little room left for pride.
Prominent on Mr. Woodruff's desk was his personal creed:
There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit.