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University of Wyoming
1000 East University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071-2000
By Lisa Bisbee
During the past 40 years, David Brooks (B.A. ’84) has lived and worked throughout China. During that time he’s had a front row seat as China evolved from an isolated country into a rising giant on the world stage. To witness that transformation up close has been astounding, says Brooks, who has spent more than 25 years working for The Coca-Cola Company—helping the company develop its business via dozens of factories throughout China.
“It’s felt like riding on a very fast elevator. But instead of just rising a floor or two, it lifts you rapidly every year for 40 years,” says Brooks, now working as the chairman of Coca-Cola Greater China and Korea.
The son of U.S. diplomat and UW graduate Stan Brooks, Brooks grew up in Nepal and China, becoming fluent in Mandarin Chinese by the time he was a teenager. In 1979, the United States and China established formal diplomatic relations. In the same week, the first batch of Coca-Cola arrived in China by train, becoming the first international brand to return to China as the country reopened to the world.
It’s a far cry from when Brooks started his post-UW career working for an American law firm in Shanghai as a legal assistant in 1985.
After working on several projects for Coca-Cola, which was a client of the firm, Brooks made a sufficiently favorable impression on the Coca-Cola regional manager, who offered Brooks a job.
In 1988, Brooks started what would become a long-term career with Coca-Cola. One of Brooks’ first assignments in the late 1980s was to establish a new Greenfield bottling plant on Hainan Island, which is in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of Vietnam. In the early frontier days of foreign investment in China, Brooks says there was little to no infrastructure support, no local electricity supply, no qualified local suppliers and no municipal wastewater treatment facilities. The remote new Coca-Cola bottling plant needed to meet Coke’s international standards despite these challenges, and it did.
Brooks says it continues to be a real privilege to live through such a dramatic period of change in the history of China. “Most people would agree the world has benefited from China’s opening and re-emergence as a major player on the world stage,” Brooks says.
Brooks has held several positions with the company in China, South Africa, Belgium and the United States since starting his career. He was chief operating officer for Coca-Cola Bottling Investments Group China, responsible for company operations in 11 provinces of the country. Before that, he was general manager of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games for Coca-Cola, responsible for the overall strategy and implementation for the company in China’s first-ever Olympic Games.
Brooks says China’s rapid growth hasn’t come without major challenges. People in China are waking up to the serious side-effects of rapid industrialization in the form of air, soil and water pollution, which has reached crisis levels, Brooks says. There are also widespread concerns about food safety, social inequality and a general lack of trust.
“All of my Chinese friends are genuinely proud of what their country has achieved,” Brooks says. “At the same time, there is a growing awareness and sense of urgency among the country’s leadership and also ordinary citizens that the current development model is unsustainable and needs to be evolved.”
While companies like Coca-Cola and the Chinese government are increasingly focusing on the challenges of sustainable growth, Brooks says he is more and more grateful for his connection to Wyoming.
“Visiting Wyoming restores our belief that it’s possible for the human race and nature to live in harmony,” he says. “China’s unique challenge is to restore this fundamental balance in a country where more people live in my immediate neighborhood in Shanghai than the whole state of Wyoming. This makes China’s challenge more daunting and all the more critical for all of us.”