Hays, Constance L.
HAYS, Constance L.
PERSONAL: Married John A. Hays; children: three.
CAREER: News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, former reporter; New York Times, New York, NY, reporter, 1986—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best management book of 2004, Strategy and Business magazine, for The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company.
The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: After covering the food and beverage industry for the New York Times, reporter Constance L. Hays decided to write a history of the Coca-Cola Company, about whose dealings she had reported on for over three years. Focusing on the business aspects of the company, but not neglecting the colorful cultural legacy of Coke, Hays chronicles the company's ups and downs under its three leaders: Robert Woodruff, Roberto Goizueta, and Douglas Ivester. "Hays is an intrepid sleuth, able to craft a colorful narrative by gaining the confidence of the normally tight-lipped Coke executives and bottlers," wrote Business Week reviewer Dean Foust; and as Booklist contributor Mary Whaley noted, "Hays offers engaging profiles of the different powerful personalities." Yet from the beginning, Hays was interested in more than just the business aspects of Coke. "It is such a totally American company and it makes this uniquely American product. I looked at Coke and said, 'What does this say about us and about American business in general?'" she explained to a Beverage World reporter. "Coke is one piece of our culture that is basically in every corner of the globe. This is what we have exported more successfully than anything else, including democracy, including our own technology or medical knowledge or any of those things. So that's puzzling too: Why is Coke so easy to latch on to and what does it mean to people?"
Several reviewers determined that the audience for the book is limited because Hays focuses so narrowly on the business strategies of the company. "The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company should be required reading for a graduate business school class, but the average Coke drinker can leave this book on the shelf," wrote Andrea Ahles of theKnight Ridder/Tribune News Service. "Hays's account offers a dutiful trot through the company's early years, hitting its mark as it turns into a tale of hubris, greed and, by extension, schadenfreude," noted London Guardian reviewer Chris Petit. "As a fable, it deserves Frank Capra," Petit added. "As a historical account, there are ellipses and omissions." Omission include a discussion of Coke's purchase and sale of Columbia Pictures, the rivalry between Coke and Pepsi, and the management of the company after Ivester's sudden resignation. Several reviewers questioned Hays's methods. For example, Whaley called attention to the author's use of unspecific citations and questioned her objectivity, while Foust suggested that The Real Thing was already dated at its publication because it does not include the most recent events.
On the other hand, Foust compared The Real Thing favorably to other books on the same topic, noting that "Hays's effort provides far more original revelations than did previous Coke histories." Among the work's enthusiasts are Library Journal critic Susan C. Awe, who noted Hays's "fresh insights into the corporate world and a worldwide company," and Aresh Shirali of the Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, who wrote of the book: "Blended with management intrigue, noble intentions, and corporate hubris, it's quite a heady tale-of-ends, and the means to those ends."
Hays told CA: "As a child I started many single-issue newspapers, reporting on my friends and classmates, and gradually moved into creative and exploratory writing of a more sophisticated variety. The biggest influence on my works comes from reading books of all kinds—biography, fiction—as well as poetry. I love children's books and the way children write—expressing themselves without inhibition. Luckily I have three of my own who write a lot. My youngest just wrote a book of his own called The Hungry Surfers.
"I take an idea, turn it over in my head for days or weeks, then try to outline a story around it. I am a serial revisionist—I will go to my computer in the middle of the night if I think of a change that will improve a phrase. It's very hard for me to say, 'All right … this is done.'
"The most surprising thing I have learned from being a writer is that it doesn't get easier. And the critics—some of them don't seem to read the books they review. As I just have one book to my credit so far, The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company would have to be the favorite book I've written. I like it because it holds not only the story of a company and a well-known product, but the story of America, good and bad. Coke is like a reflecting pool for our culture in many ways."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, April 11, 2004, Aresh Shirali, "Ends and Means."
Beverage World, February 15, 2004, "American Icon," p. 34.
Booklist, February 1, 2004, Mary Whaley, review of The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company, p. 939.
Business Week, March 15, 2004, Dean Foust, "Coke's Decade of Arrogance," p. 22.
Guardian (London, England), March 27, 2004, Chris Petit, "Chris Petit Analyses the Extraordinary Mindset of the Company behind the World's Favourite Soft Drink," p. 10.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2003, review of The Real Thing, p. 1261.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 31, 2004, Andrea Ahles, "Story of Coke's Business Side Is a Bit Dry," p. K3926.
Library Journal, November 15, 2003, Susan C. Awe, review of The Real Thing, p. 77.
New Statesman, March 22, 2004, William Leith, review of The Real Thing, pp. 54-55.
Publishers Weekly, December 8, 2003, review of The Real Thing, p. 54.
U.S. News and World Report, February 16, 2004, Kim Clark, "Not Always So Sweet," p. 14.