What is a strategic partnership? So many times we hear the term “strategic” and “partnership” used, abundantly and wrongly. But if you put them together, what does it mean? How do you form one, can you, and how do you know it exists?


I count myself extremely fortunate to have not only worked for Coca-Cola for over 20 years, but to have worked ten of those on the McDonald’s business. It took them a long time to find me out! 

The McDonald’s Group, as it was known then, was an exclusive Customer Service team that reported directly to the CEO of Coca-Cola, the only Customer Group to do so.

I was part of that team which was divided into 6 main global geographies (like continents) and we had six VP’s responsible for those areas.

Our job was to work with local Coca-Cola personnel to ensure the best service was provided to McDonald’s for distribution, equipment, marketing, and maintaining product quality.

This was the most professional Customer Service group that I have had the privilege of working with. The individuals were passionate, professional, talented and committed. The Customer came first and this mantra was reflected in everything we did. But it didn’t happen by osmosis. And it didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of planning, smart leadership and a strategy to make it happen.

So how did it happen and how did we know we were succeeding?

There were 5 key pillars:

  1. Recognition of the Opportunity
  2. Leadership by Example 
  3. Crafting a Communicating for the Strategy
  4. Delivering the Tactics
  5. Finding ways to Add Value constantly and consistently

So let’s look at the first key pillar:

  1. Recognition of the Opportunity

How did Coca-Cola recognize the opportunity? How did that happen? In 1947 after the war, a young man who had been commissioned as an Officer and Naval Aviator re-joined Coca-Cola, and was promoted to District Sales Manager for Fountain Sales. He was transferred to Chicago in 1955. His name was Waddy Pratt. As part of his customer contacts in his area he met Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s. They developed a good relationship and on February 1955, and with his management blessing, they formed a supplier/customer partnership that was sealed with a handshake. To this day there has never been a formal written contract.

Waddy is now a legend in the McDonald’s Division of Coca-Cola due to his recognition of the opportunity and his role of convincing Coca-Cola’s senior management that this could be a strategic partnership. So when Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald’s restaurant in Des Plaines, the potential of a strategic partnership started to be realized.

Waddy Pratt had seen the opportunity for Coca-Cola to help McDonald’s serve quality ice cold drinks and expand their business and this was the foundation and vision of what has been a unique relationship that has lasted over 60 years.

Over the next series of articles, I will review the development of this strategic partnership between these two major brands and discuss the rest of the 5 Key Pillars so you can look at ways of integrating these into how you build your key customer relationships.


Peter M. Beaumont is a Management Consultant, Founder of ConnXN and a Consultant for Pivotal Advisors. He is the author of The Relationship Roadmap and works with managers of B2B companies to increase profits quicker by managing Strategic Accounts differently. See more at www.ConnXN.net and http://www.pivotaladvisors.com