The Young Leaders of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta is a group of professionals in their 20s and 30s who share common interest in global connectedness. They engage with experts in various industries to gain a better understanding of complex issues. Members are inquisitive, diverse in their perspective and committed to participating in the global arena.
It's no surprise that one of the group’s signature events is the Global Leadership Dialogue Series (GLDS), in which members are afforded the unique opportunity to interact with senior executives in an intimate setting. Previous guests of GLDS sessions have included Derreck Kayongo, CEO of Atlanta’a Center for Civil and Human Rights; Dr. Frances Colon, Deputy Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State; and Katrina “Kat” Cole, Group President of Focus Brands and COO of Cinnabon, Inc.
Now, joining the cadre of GLDS alumni is Bea Perez, Chief Sustainability Officer at The Coca-Cola Company. With opening remarks made by Clyde Tuggle, Chief Public Affairs and Communications Officer of The Coca-Cola Company, the Oct. 24 GLDS session was graciously hosted at The Coca-Cola Company’s global headquarters. Every seat in the conference hall was filled, as Kitae Kim, vice chair of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta Young Leaders, moderated an insightful discussion with Bea.
As a top executive, Bea leads the Office of Sustainability and is charged with embedding sustainability purpose and practices into operations, helping grow business while making a lasting positive difference for consumers, communities and the environment. Through this work, Coca-Cola has become a global leader in advancing social commitments worldwide by bridging collaboration, and setting priorities that include well-being, the economic empowerment of women, and facilitation of safe access and replenishment of water.
And so began the lively GLDS discussion, amidst generous refreshments for attendees!
Bea highlighed Coca-Cola’s sustainability work over the years. Central to its success have been partnerships strengthened between government, civil society and corporations. Bea stressed that the focal point of Muhtar Kent’s coined “Golden Triangle” is people. So while each tip of the Golden Triangle denotes business, civil society and government, people fill the triangle’s center and are the motivating factor. In all the great work proposed by Coca-Cola, such as replenishing 100% of the water consumed by the company (which has been achieved!), and aiming to economically empower 5 million women by 2020, people, in their various contexts and communities, have been paramount.
One of the beauties of the GLDS is the opportunity to hear from executives how they would have advised their younger selves. Bea summarized her advice for aspiring leaders in three parts:
1. Create! If you notice a gap in your professional and creative affiliations, do not be afraid to pitch an idea to create something new.
2. Support each other through mentorship and/or sponsorship. Mentorship, Bea says consists of coaching, in which a mentor gives advice on how to flourish professionally, and often personally. Sponsorship, conversely, entails advocacy. A sponsor advocates for your advancement, and would not necessarily provide coaching tips. While it is important to have mentors and sponsors, it’s essential to also provide such support to others.
3. What do you really want? You must have an answer, as this may be the question that could potentially hold you back from advancement. In order for a sponsor to effectively advocate for you, they must be clear on your goals. Therefore, you must be clear on them.
Realizing the rigorous and perhaps unpredictable schedule of Bea’s position, Kitae steered discussion toward her personal routine: Do you have a daily routine that you think helps bring clarity to your professional and personal life? Bea challenged attendees to set their own priorities, by asking, “What would your family say at your eulogy?” How would those you love talk about your presence? She shared her priorities as God and family. Setting such priorities is a personal venture and looks different for everyone. One of her mentors, for example, seemed to place career over family. Yet, he consistently advised her to "not be afraid to take a day off to think.” You cannot effectively contribute if you are too tired to perform. Self-care, particularly in today’s social media era of instantaneous information and entertainment, is a resonating message for young leaders.
If attendees could take away one message from Bea, it would be that while ambition and career-building is encouraged, young professionals should also be generous with themselves on balancing their lives. Keep your LinkedIn updated, but also don’t be afraid to share funny videos on Snapchat with friends and family!