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Robert W. Woodruff Scholars and Fellows Program

About the Program

Robert Woodruff
Just 33 years old when he took command of the Coca-Cola Co. in 1923, Robert Winship Woodruff shaped the fledgling soft drink enterprise and its bottler franchise system into a corporate giant with the world's most widely known trademark. A man of enormous stature and personal magnetism, Woodruff's influence over the affairs of Coca-Cola was absolute until his death in 1985.

Woodruff was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1889 and soon moved to Atlanta, where his father, Ernest, became president of the Trust Co. of Georgia. An indifferent student, young Woodruff wasted no time in making his mark in business. Beginning as a salesman for the White Motor Co. in Cleveland, Ohio, Woodruff quickly became the company's most successful salesman and was soon promoted to vice president and general sales manager.

Meanwhile, Ernest Woodruff had invested along with many other Atlantans in the Coca-Cola Co., which had been acquired and taken public by a syndicate led by the Trust Co. of Georgia. After the acquisition, the company fell on lean times, so Ernest persuaded Robert to return to Atlanta and become its president.

During the next six decades, Woodruff established a remarkable record as a businessman and philanthropist. He gave anonymously to many institutions, a number of which owe their very existence to his generosity. Much of his philanthropy was directed through the Trebor Foundation, established in 1937 (renamed the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation following his death). Woodruff and his brother also presided over the Emily and Ernest Woodruff Fund, a separate charitable foundation whose assets of approximately $105 million were distributed in 1979 to Emory University.

The gift was called the largest single benefaction in American history and increased Woodruff’s donations to the university to more than $200 million. Emory, with five million shares of stock, became one of the largest owners of Coca-Cola.