Our tribute to Salvatore Gabola

Salvatore GabolaWe were very sad to hear that Salvatore Gabola died suddenly over the weekend. Our thoughts go out to his family.

I only met Salvatore once, in June 2006, when he was Global Head of Stakeholder Relations at Coca-Cola. He asked for the meeting through a statement made to the BBC as part of a programme about our work on the iPM programme which is archived here.

It was with some trepidation that I boarded the Eurostar train to travel to Brussels where Salvatore was based. I’d met with powerful business people before in my life and can’t claim that any of the meetings had gone particularly well. And this time we had 1,000 members of our new Facebook Group and it felt like they were all watching.

The anxiety I felt as I approached the Coca-Cola’s corporate HQ in Brussels we dispelled within minutes of us meeting. He gave me time, he listened and advised on how to engage Coca-Cola in what we were trying to do. I had to quell my excitement following our meeting and reported it in a very matter of fact way at the time. It would have been easy to come across as a naive campaigner who’d been seduced by a clever corporate operator and I knew that wasn’t what had happened. I’d made a friend. We were partners in a quest to get Coca-Cola’s attention and their support for what we were trying to do. As things have turned out, we don’t need to integrate with Coca-Cola’s operations as we thought we did but that’s not the point. If we hadn’t had Salvatore’s support in those early days, if he’d dismissed ColaLife as a nuisance we would not be where we are today.

Following our meeting, Salvatore worked through the Coca-Cola system that he knew so well and made things happen for ColaLife. Perhaps the most obvious thing he did immediately was invite me to attend a workshop in Dar Es Salaam in Nov-08 which looked at how Coca-Cola could have a bigger social impact in the way in operated. The blog posts from that trip are here.  This was a formative time for ColaLife and it is here that I met Adrian Ristow who remains our contact within Coca-Cola to this day.

Salvatore – none of what we have achieved could have happened without you. You were simply a very nice, clever and supportive man who wanted to do the right thing.

I will leave you with a tribute written by a colleague of Salvatore’s who knew him much better than I did.

It is with deep sadness that I need to share the tragic and shocking news that yesterday, Saturday 16 October, Salvatore died after suffering a fatal heart attack. He was in Paris with his wife.

I am sure all of you will react in the way I did, with disbelief. Salvatore was a unique character. He had great intellectual capacity, a deep interest in different cultures and languages, and a passion for learning. He loved working at Coca-Cola and gave so much to his 18 years here, always having the faith and optimism that he could help get the business to do the right things. He believed in people and showed a warmth and kindness that meant he established many deep personal relationships across the system. He was a genuine, inspiring leader who passed on his insights and skills to many over the years. His thinking is truly part of the fabric of our organisation.

I have learned so much from Salvatore and he has been a friend in the good and bad times.

Although Salvatore was dedicated to his work, nothing compared to his family. He was devoted to his wife and their three children. He was so proud of them all and made his career and life decisions solely around them. He was one of a kind and will be sorely missed by all those he touched.

Our thoughts are with his family. We will of course pass on details of funeral arrangements when we know them.