Ex-Coke CEO: They didn't tell me secret formula

In 1886, a pharmacist named Dr. John Pemberton created a concoction he called Coca-Cola, and sold it for five cents-a-glass in Atlanta.

Now, 125 years later, Coca-Cola has grown into a company that sells 1.7 billion drinks a day around the world.

Neville Isdell, author of the new memoir "Inside Coca-Cola: A CEO'S Life Story of Building the World's Most Popular Brand," spent 43-years with Coca-Cola and was chairman and chief executive officer from 2004-2009.

Read an excerpt from Isdell's book.

While he knew the inner workings of the company, he did not know one important thing: the secret formula for the fizzy drink.

"They didn't tell me the secret formula," he said. "And I didn't even ask, because I know the system, and I know how closely it's held."

When "Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill asked how many people know the secret formula, Isdell said, "I'm not even going to tell you that."

Isdell came out of retirement in 2004 to help the company after it hit a rough patch. Isdell helped turn around the business and the company's morale. When asked how he did it, Isdell said, "At the end of the day, it's all about the people and all about how they feel about coming to work every day. Now, translating that is difficult, but that is what it's all about."

Isdell studied social work in college and says that helped him turn things around at the corporation.

"The lesson I got from social work is you really can't tell people to do things," he said. "You've got to make them change themselves. So I've always tried to manage in terms of getting the facts out there, obviously, leading in a certain direction. But also making sure I was getting commitment, because you can have compliance, but you really need commitment."

Looking at the current challenges people in the U.S. are facing, Hill asked the longtime executive what Americans need to do to help start the turnaround.

"You got to get people to understand how bad the situation really is," Isdell said. "They see it in their everyday lives, and that's why people are camped out on Wall Street, OK? They see it, but they still, I don't think, have realized they have to take a bit of pain in terms of getting it fixed."

He added, "I'm an Irishman. You look at Ireland. They have taken a lot of pain, and the people have taken it because they were led in a way where they understood that, unless they did that, the other alternative was not really palatable."

Leadership, Isdell says, is what's important going forward.

"It is always about leadership," he said. "We will see who steps up, because if you go back to what happened with the financial crisis, people really only step up when they are very close to the precipice -- and that's scary."

Drawing from his experience with Pepsi as the chief competition, Isdell also remarked on the competition between the United States and China.

"It's, obviously, different, because you're dealing with, you know, real countries, real people, not just companies. But why I talk about Pepsi being good and one of the former leaders ... said, 'If Pepsi didn't exist, we would have to invent them" is because, what you're doing through competition, you're increasing the size of the pie. And to me, some of the debate that we have with China at the moment is how do we maintain our share and stop them getting more share? That's the wrong discussion.

"The discussion is, how do we benefit from working together to enlarge the pie to grow the global economy, that's how you grow jobs. And instead of fighting about where they go, see how we enable ourselves to be able to compete in all of the new areas, and, therefore, increase our intellectual capital and, through that, be able to compete. It is about thinking about growing the pie, rather than very narrowly -- 'I want one of yours' and it's a zero-sum game."