For Coca-Cola’s bottler in Nepal, the past three months have been both a test of will and a testament to unity.

On April 25, Nepal was struck by its most devastating natural disaster since 1934, an earthquake that killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

The initial earthquake took place around noon that day, and aftershocks continue even now. One on May 12 was only slightly less ferocious than the initial tremor, and perhaps more damaging to the confidence of the Nepalese people, who hoped the worst was over.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, vast amounts of displaced people were living outside in open spaces. Every available spot, from the national soccer stadium to public parking lots, was filled with tents. The fear of being indoors during another earthquake compelled many, even those with intact homes, to spend their nights outdoors.

The lines at Nepal’s only international airport stretched for miles with people hoping to flee the scene. Airport hours were soon extended around the clock as it strived to accommodate both relief items and commercial flights.

Salman Latif Rawn is managing director of the Bottlers Nepal Limited, which controls Coca-Cola bottling plants in Kathmandu and Bharatpur. He and his family spent several nights in parks or on the floors of friends’ houses. With no available lines of communication or Internet access, Rawn scrambled to locate his employees after the disaster. April 25 was a holiday, and only about 50 of his 300 employees were working in the two plants. Thankfully, none of these employees were hurt, although both plants took on considerable damage. 

As Rawn witnessed the widespread devastation and the inefficient distribution of relief money and goods, he acted quickly. First, he moved his displaced employees to hotels, where many dragged their mattresses to ground-floor conference rooms or outdoor parking lots for fear of another aftershock.



Nepal

He also purchased about a week’s worth of groceries for his employees and people in the communities around the bottling plants. Bottlers Nepal Limited donated nearly 20,000 cases of Kinley water to several local organizations positioned to distribute to those in need.

For 14 days, the two plants were completely shut down as insurers inspected them and crates of shattered glass bottles were moved safely. However, the challenges did not end there.

“Even when we opened the plant, labor was not available,” Rawn explained. “People were not ready to leave their families and come.”

The management team began preparing the plant for normal operations, but many of their distributors and drivers were afraid to come back to work.

Rawn decided to lead by example. On May 17, he met with his leadership team and initiated “Mission 44,” a plan to restore business conditions by June 30. “We have to do something different,” Rawn told his team. “We have 44 days, and we have to rise back.”



Nepal

Without the distributors and drivers that they typically relied on, the leadership team took matters into their own hands. “We don’t have people, but we have vehicles, we have stock” said Rawn. “If we don’t have the labor, we’ll become the salesmen and the drivers.”

As the officers began working day and night in a variety of roles, they restored both their business and the confidence of other employees. Soon, other employees began returning to the bottling plants after witnessing their leaders succeed despite the daunting conditions.

The Coca-Cola Company’s vision encourages employees to act like owners, a principle embodied by the re-emergence of the Nepal bottler. “This is ours," Rawn said. "This is my business… If I had a shop, I would come back to my shop. Why can’t I come back to my work?”

As more and more employees returned, the success of “Mission 44” surpassed expectations. During the second quarter of 2015, Nepal bottlers sold more than 3 million cases of Coca-Cola products, the highest sales volume in its history.

Rawn and his team achieved incredible success in the face of this disaster, but he emphasized that the country of Nepal still has a long path to recovery ahead. Countless people are still homeless, many streets are still filled with rubble, and relief goods are impeded by various taxes and legal obstacles. On top of these issues, the aftershocks of the earthquake continue today and keep many people on edge.

The Coca-Cola Company has actively responded to Nepal’s earthquake (read more here) and encourages donations to the Red Cross for Nepal’s recovery.