Newnan-Coweta Magazine / Jan-Feb. 2020

By Jackie Kennedy – Newnan Coweta Magazine

Raised the son of a sharecropper, Coweta County native Carl Ware played a role in pivotal points in history, from evolution of the political guard in Atlanta to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

Born into a Coweta County sharecropping family in 1943, Carl Ware might have remained on the farm had he been raised by different parents. The faith, tenacity and work ethic he learned from U.B. and Lois Wimberly Ware propelled him to seek education and a life of service that led him to places far from the Sargent farm where he and his siblings picked cotton when they were kids.

A 1961 graduate of Central High School in Newnan, Ware earned his bachelor’s degree from Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University, and a master’s from the University of Pittsburgh. He worked as director of housing for the Urban League of Pittsburgh before moving to Atlanta where he served simultaneously as director of Family and Community Services and deputy director of Urban Redevelopment with the Atlanta Housing Authority.

In 1973, Ware was elected to the Atlanta City Council and served as its president from 1976 to 1979. He started working part-time for Coca-Cola in 1974 and, in 1979, left the city council to work full-time as Coke’s vice president of special markets. Ware climbed the corporate ladder, eventually becoming head of the soft drink company’s Africa group in 1993. He is credited with leadership that popularized Coca-Cola on the African continent.

From his office in Atlanta, Ware organized a U.S. tour for Nelson Mandela to raise funds for his campaign for president of South Africa. And the Coweta native led Coke’s relief efforts for Rwandan refugees and Zimbabwens affected by cataclysmic drought.

In 2000, Ware became Coke’s executive vice president of Public Affairs and Administration, a role in which he worked with world leaders like U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Ware worked with Coca-Cola for nearly three decades. Upon his retirement, the soft drink giant donated $1 million to his alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, to help fund the Carl and Mary Ware Academic Center. Since retiring, Ware has served on several influential boards, including the Chevron Corporation, Georgia Power and PGA Tour Golf Course Properties Board. Today, he and his wife Mary reside at homes in Newnan and Atlanta.

Ware’s autobiography, “Portrait of an American Businessman: One Generation from Cotton Field to Boardroom,” was released in September 2019. He chats about the book – and the amazing life that prompted it – in The NCM Q&A.

NCM: Tell me about working on the book with Sibley Fleming.

Ware: She knew a lot about the story, of course, being the granddaughter of Celestine Sibley who was an old acquaintance of mine from my days in politics. It didn’t take her but a minute to start to capture my personality. To shift from 1943, which is when I was born, into 2018 is not an easy leap – and to capture every era and the way I lived it.

NCM: It’s almost like there’s Book One, Two and Three. Book One details your childhood in Coweta County; Book Two, your political work in Atlanta; and Book Three, Coca-Cola and your work around the globe.

Ware: It’s interesting that you picked up on that because when I first started out, I was introduced to book agents in New York and the first agent said to me, “You actually have three or four books here. Why don’t you just write one and then write another one?”

And I said, “No, I’m going to write one book, and that’s going to be it as far as my life is concerned. I may do some other things based on my business experiences, but I don’t want to do three books. This is one life, one story. We’re just going to make this work.”

NCM: And it does work. It’s very cohesive. One part blends into the other.

Ware: The book is really about struggle and it’s about courage and it’s about leadership. I have to say one word that describes my parents and what they stood for is “strength.” They had strength and fortitude and day-in, day-out dedication to us as children. They instilled in us the values of hard work, values of discipline, values of preparation.

They didn’t call it back in those days homeschooling, but that’s what it was. They taught us in the home how to eat, how to behave, how to love one another. My daddy’s favorite saying was “The only way to heaven is to love one another.” And that started inside our household.

We had it hard. Growing up on a farm, no matter whether you own the farm or you sharecrop it, it’s hard work and hard living. But you learn to rely on each other for strength.

NCM: One of my favorite stories in your book is the one about your dad at Prayer Rock.

Ware: My father suffered miserably from pleurisy and asthma and there was nothing to treat it. He was suffering so much that he couldn’t walk, but he wanted to find this place to pray up near Jones Hill United Methodist Church on Walt Carmichael Road. So one day in 1945, he literally crawled on his knees from the house to this altar-like rock. I found the rock when I was working on the book. He got on his knees and he prayed to God, “If you will relieve me of this illness, if you’ll cure me, I’ll devote my life to you and be your servant for the rest of my life.”

His fate did not immediately change in terms of his illness, but he said that after the prayer, things began to change, like finding Paul Smith, the sharecropper farm owner. I describe Paul Smith as an enlightened businessman. He saw in the Ware family a means in which he could farm all of his land – the cotton, corn, sugarcane – and Daddy and Mama found in him a man who was kind towards black folks. Let me tell you what that means: The normal split between the owner and a sharecropper was two-thirds to the landowner and one-third to the sharecropper. Daddy and Paul Smith struck an agreement for 50-50. That was unheard of.

Eventually, my father and mother decided we would buy our own land with some of the savings through that sharecropping arrangement. Everybody in our family who could work had a job in addition to working in the fields for Paul Smith, and we saved that money collectively. On Saturday nights my mother and father would sit us down at the table and say, “This is how much we saved this week. We’re going to buy that land.” We saved up $500 that was a down payment on the 50 acres of land that started this place where we’re sitting right now.

NCM: That’s a beautiful story, it really is.

Ware: I tell it everywhere I go. I actually told that story at a staff meeting when I first took over the Coca-Cola business in Africa. I ended up by saying to them that our motto going forward was going to be something I learned when I was growing up: “Any job worth doing is worth doing right the first time.” This was circulated throughout the continent of Africa.

NCM: In your book, there’s a picture of that on a document.

Ware: Yes, and that’s where that notion came from. The takeaway that I would want to convey to anyone who reads the book, especially young folk, is that no matter the circumstance of your birth, no matter where you come from, you too can achieve and you can make a difference in your time on this earth.

NCM: At age 12, you made the statement, “I want to become a businessman.” Nobody says that. Kids want to be a doctor or fireman. Where did that come from?

Ware: That came from reading and exposure. At Northside Elementary School, occasionally someone would have an Atlanta Daily World newspaper. It featured black businesses in Atlanta, prominent business people. And my mother, about that time, said something to me like, “You ask so many questions. One of these days you’re going to be president.” It’s amazing how little tidbits of Mama and Daddy saying positive things to a child inspires you and how those words stay with you. I say to every mom and dad today, love your child and tell them good things, tell them what they can be and not what they should not do.

NCM: If your mama thinks you can be president one day, of course you can do the things you ended up doing. What inspired you to go into politics?

Ware: I had the privilege of being exposed to Dr. King as a student at Clark College. I was greatly inspired because Dr. King gave us the courage and the feeling that it was the righteous thing to do. To become fully educated, you have to be involved, you have to be an activist, you must be fighting for your own rights and freedoms. Dr. King’s assassination inspired me to run for public office.

NCM: You became Atlanta’s first African American city council president and worked alongside the first African American mayor. You, Maynard Jackson and other city council members elected in 1973 brought about a monumental shift in Atlanta politics.

Ware: That was a pivotal turning point in the history of the city of Atlanta. It was the beginning of something revolutionary. It was an amazing and incredible time. For me, it was a dream come true. Public service was in my blood. It was my calling. Later I looked back and found that I had been a part of and directly connected to many of the events and the people who impacted Atlanta in a very positive way.

NCM: You were like Forrest Gump. You were everywhere, Carl Ware.

Ware: Yes, and so I thought I need to write this all down. I had worked for Coca-Cola and had been exposed to some of the world’s most dynamic leaders, like Desmund Tutu and Nelson Mandela, who literally changed the course of history in this world. After working alongside them, I felt it was my obligation to put this all down in writing.

Much of the book is about how to use power once you gain power to make a change and make a difference. As Maynard Jackson and I, along with the city council and other elected officials, changed the dynamics of how business was conducted in the city of Atlanta, we dispelled some myths. And one myth was that if you used minority participation as a law to require involvement in the $2 billion expansion of the Atlanta airport, you’re going to jeopardize the city’s bond rating and create a boondoggle at the airport of contracts being handed out to people not qualified.

Guess what? We proved the banks, the business community and Wall Street all wrong. We brought that expansion of the airport in ahead of schedule and well within budget with at least 25 percent of all the contractors being minorities and women.

NCM: There was a sea change during the five years you served on the city council.

Ware: We achieved monumental things. God gives us power to do good, and we earn power to do good, and that’s what Dr. King taught. And we were fortunate enough to be the first wave of public servants who had been students of Dr. King’s teachings.

NCM: You moved from politics to become Coca-Cola’s vice-president of special markets in 1979, but you ended up working in the political realm for the rest of your life.

Ware: I do believe in divine intervention. I do believe this is something I was trained and molded for. I ended up doing on a world stage what I could only have done locally in Atlanta. And in the process, it made a tremendous career. In every step of the way, as power and opportunity were given me, I used that position to make changes in diversity at Coca-Cola. When I was elected president of Coca-Cola Africa, I used that power to make changes in our business system on the continent of Africa.

NCM: Tell me about meeting Desmund Tutu – and his reaction to your initial plan for Coca-Cola in Africa?

Ware: In my first meeting with him, there was a majestic feeling of being in the presence of the most revered spiritual icon in the world, but I felt so comfortable in his presence. This made me feel really confident. So I made my presentation, and he invited me to Eucharist the next morning with his staff and I thought, well, we probably have a pretty good chance. And then he handed me a press release and said, “I’m going to have a press conference and announce that all companies, including the Coca-Cola company, should disinvest immediately.”

NCM: I felt for you when I read that.

Ware: I did not expect that kind of abrupt departure from where I thought we were headed, and at that moment I said to Bishop Tutu, “Would you mind having a prayer with me? Because I’m going to need it in order to find a way to tell my bosses back in Atlanta that we’re going to have to make some real serious business decisions.”

NCM: That was your prayer rock.

Ware: That was my prayer rock. I never thought about it that way, honestly I didn’t. But that was my prayer rock, you’re right.

And when the prayer was finished, we got up and he said, “I won’t make the decision now. I will think about it and we’ll meet again.” That gave me time to go and start crafting something very different. And I ended up working alongside him to become the architect of the Coca-Cola company’s disinvestment plan from South Africa.

NCM: Nelson Mandela credited you with being instrumental in bringing an end to apartheid. His note to you, which appears on your book’s dust jacket, reads: “When the history of our struggle is properly reviewed, only then will the world be privy to fully understand your catalytic role in that struggle.” Tell me about Mandela.

Ware: I met with Mr. Mandela in his office in downtown Johannesburg, and my first impression was a regal presence but down-to-earth. We talked about his family, we talked about my family, we talked about my background. We talked about the future of South Africa and how the Coca-Cola company could join with him in creating the new South Africa.

And that day he admonished me to never come to South Africa unless I called him first when I got there. If he was in town, I would go by his home and we would repeat that first day of talking about family and things we enjoyed, a little bit about business, but mostly about our backgrounds. We never really talked about his days in prison. I never asked and he never volunteered that. Our focus was on how to create a new South Africa and using the power of the brand of Coca-Cola to be out front leading that.

NCM: Tell me about your family. I understand one of your brothers recently died.

Ware: Thomas was our family soldier, our hero. He had two tours of duty in Vietnam. He passed away Oct. 25, 2019. With his passing, there are eight of us left. My oldest sister, Louise, lives on the farm here. She’s in her early 80s and just as chipper and lovely as always. And my sister Mildred is moving back to the farm, too, so we’ll have a little Wareville out here on the Ware Farm. My brother Walter lives in Coweta County, too, in the Welcome area.

NCM: Tell me about the farm.

Ware: This home sits on some 260-odd acres. I just sold 200 acres to a local realtor who’s building a nice subdivision. I started investing in land in Newnan 30 years ago or more.

NCM: Why did you invest in land? Does it go back to your family saving up that $500 to buy the farm?

Ware: Yes. I always knew that I would end up back here, and I wanted to own as much land as I possibly could. It’s not just the monetary value. It’s the keeping of property to hand down to your children, to generations to come.

NCM: Tell me about your son and your grandchildren.

Ware: Our son Timothy passed away Jan. 9, 2017, of a sudden heart attack. He was 50 years old. He was an entrepreneur who owned his own landscape company and opened one of the first delis in the Georgia Tech campus area about 25 years ago.

Our grandchildren: Renita is 31 and Aaron is 30. Aaron works for Coca-Cola in Charlotte, North Carolina. Renita’s ambition is to own and operate her own child development center. They both are lovely. And Renita recently had my first great grand, Tayden Alexander.

NCM: You’re 76, Mr. Ware. You were telling me you exercise several times a week.

Ware: I exercise four or five times a week. I got up this morning and did my workouts. I usually do about 30 minutes of stretching and aerobics. And then I do weights, and then my hammers and then the treadmill for about 25 or 30 minutes.

NCM: Well, 76 looks like the new 62 on you.

Ware: That’s very kind of you to say. I appreciate it. I think the body is the temple. As you eat and treat yourself, so are you.

NCM: Last question. How do you want to be remembered?

Ware: Wow, that’s a great question. I think I would want to be remembered as a good man, as a person who put others first. And that I have a passion for service and a love of people with an insatiable appetite for getting to know more about people. A people person, yeah.

NCM: It’s obvious you’re a people person. You utilized that through every step of your life.

Ware: When I retired from the board of the Chevron Corporation three or four years ago, the CEO shared some words about me. He said he asked the senior management team what they thought of Carl Ware as a person, and they said, “He’s a people person. He loves people.”

That’s good enough for me. Yes, that’s good enough for me.

Check this story and more in the  Jan/Feb 2020 edition of Newnan Coweta Magazine – available January 4th in The Newnan Times-Herald, and at these locations: