Retirement is something most
people look forward to. According to a Gallup poll, the average American
expects to retire at 67.
Rocky Battista is not your average American – or Coca-Cola employee, for that matter.
“Every time someone asks me when I’m going to retire, I laugh,” Rocky says. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re going to have to rip this uniform off of me!”
At just a few months short of 90 years old, Rocky rolls in to Coca-Cola’s South Brunswick facility in New Jersey every morning, buttoned up in a white collared Coca-Cola shirt and tie only he is allowed to wear.
“Nobody questions me because they just know that I’m here!”
And after 75 years of working for Coca-Cola, it’s no wonder.
“Through and through, from head to toe, I’m as Coca-Cola as Coca-Cola could be,” Rocky explains. “There is nothing else for me. I could be sitting down at a table all day, and I would still love it.”
Born in Italy on November 21, 1923, Rocky grew up in a small, Italian farming town called Giovinazzo. Rocky’s family decided to move to the United States when he was 14, boarding a ship called The Roma to cross the Atlantic. Eleven days later, in October of 1937, they arrived in New York City.
“Here I am at 6 o’clock in the morning with my mouth wide open watching the Statue of Liberty go by. I thought what is that thing?” he remembers.
Rocky and his family passed through Ellis Island, then traveled to Newark to move into a home just 500 feet from a local Coca-Cola facility.
Each day, Rocky and his friend Anthony would walk by the Coca-Cola plant, stopping to peer in at a man performing quality inspection on 8 ounce glass bottles. It was an act as foreign to Rocky the land he just came in on. He had never heard of Coca-Cola, and certainly didn’t know what the man with the large magnifying glass was looking for.
One day, the worker took a break from his inspections to invite the boys inside.
“He reached over, grabbed a bottle of Coke and gave it to me,” Rocky says. “I took a sip, and from that moment on, I was in love with Coca-Cola. That bottle made me feel like a million dollars!”
The employee asked the boys if they’d like to work at the plant, and just six months after he arrived to the United States, Rocky became a Coca-Cola employee.
Rocky and Anthony would attend school, walk home to change clothes and return to work at Coca-Cola. They began loading and unloading delivery trucks, working six hours and earning just 50 cents a day.
“My mom needed a little more money, so I gave her my 50 cents every night. I would put it on her table and go to sleep,” he says.
Rocky also had a passion for singing. He would save up his earnings at Coca-Cola to study with a music teacher in New York. Doling out nearly a whole week’s pay for one session, Rocky learned to sing classic Italian songs, play guitar and piano. He would rotate between singing at local spots and working at Coca-Cola, until World War II and the military draft took him away from both.
From 1942 to 1944, Rocky served as a corporal at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina, even joining the local Marine Corps band. When the war was over, however, he knew exactly what he would do.
“Hello? I went back to Coke!” Rocky says.
Rocky returned to his job at the North Brunswick facility. On the weekends, he once again found comfort on stage, singing at nightclubs and lounges in the New York area. It was here that he would also find his beloved wife – Rossie.
Rosalyn and Rocky Battista married in 1956 and had two children.
With a happy family at home, Rocky continued his journey at Coca-Cola. He worked as a merchandiser, salesman and district sales manager. He saw the conversion of Coca-Cola from glass bottles to plastic, and was even one of the first associates to deliver Diet Coke to New York City.
Not long after, Rocky decided that his job at Coca-Cola would be a permanent one.
“In October of 1984, I was still working for Coca-Cola,” he explains. “Why? Because Coke gave me money to feed my family. Because I had no place else to go. I said to myself right then and there, ‘I’m not going anywhere.’”
A Labor of Love
Ask Rocky where he works and he’ll tell you “everywhere.” Ask what he does and he’ll say “the things that need to be done for Coca-Cola.” From helping set up special events to visiting customers in his Coca-Cola van, his tasks may change from day to day, but his dedication to the business remains the same.
“He’s just the hardest working guy I’ve ever met,” said Michael Sullivan, Vice President of Sales for the New Jersey Market Unit. “We will be required at midnight to set up a meeting for the next day, Rocky is always there.”
“At the end of our management meetings, when we’re leaving at the end of the night, he’s walking by turning off lights,” said Brian Wynne, Senior Vice President of Strategy, Franchise Leadership and Business Transformation for Coca-Cola North America Group.
Wynne first met Rocky when he started at Coca-Cola in 1989. As he and many others describe, Rocky’s worth is far more than the tasks of his daily routine. He is a model Coca-Cola Ambassador, a source of inspiration and pride, and a reflection of Coca-Cola’s ideals.
“The value he brings transcends his job description. He is a representation of the historical greatness of our Coke system, the generational greatness of the Coke system and the enduring love of our brand. He’s a beacon for the rest of us,” Wynne said.
In 2002, Rocky was honored with a special “Employee of the Century” award, receiving a standing ovation from region employees. Jim Brennan, Senior Vice President of Region Sales, Coca-Cola North America Group, presented Rocky and his wife with the award.
“Everyone that works for Coca-Cola loves our brands, and most important, the great passion our people have for the business,” Brennan said. “Rocky, at 89 years old and over 70 years as a Coca-Cola employee, embodies all the great values of our company in one person. He is a gentlemen, class act, and true inspiration to us all.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by just about everyone Rocky has come in contact with.
"We often talk about the importance of living our values – thinking and acting like owners, being the brand, operating with passion and integrity in all that we do. I can't think of a better example of someone who has exemplified these values day after day than Rocky Battista,” said Glen Walter, President and Chief Operating Officer of Coca-Cola Refreshments. “He is the epitome of a Coca-Cola Ambassador.”
While he appreciates the kind words, Rocky says praise is not the reason why he’s still here.
“It doesn’t go to my head. I’m a human being just like everyone else. I just happen to love what I do,” says Rocky. “Nobody loves Coca-Cola like I do and I’m not afraid or ashamed to say that. I’ll say it on top of the empire state building if you want me to!”
Rocky’s bond with others extends beyond the workplace as well. He connects personally with employees, regardless of age or title or years with the Company. He knows associates’ names along with their children’s, and greets everyone with a smile.
When Rocky’s wife passed away in 2005, hundreds of Coca-Cola associates attended, lining the road between the funeral home and cemetery with Coke trucks.
“When you describe some of your colleagues at work, ‘I love him’ is not usually something that comes out of your mouth. You might say ‘I respect him’ or ‘I admire her.’ But with Rocky, we do. We all love him,” Wynne said.
It’s a shared emotion, Rocky says. His fellow associates are his family, and Coca-Cola is his home.
“At the end of the day, when you close those doors, you’ve just ended another wonderful day at Coca-Cola,” Rocky says. “That’s my motto: tomorrow we start all over again and we keep Coca-Cola going.”
More on Journey
- Why You Never Finish Your To-Do Lists at Work (And How to Change That)
- Midnight Bike to Belgium: When a Commute to Work Starts on a Sunday
- Getting a Grip on Calories: On the Road to Poor Health, Coke Leader Decides to Change. Does He Ever.
- Changing Lives: 5by20 Expands by 41% to Reach 1.7 Million Women
- Andy Warhol and Coca-Cola: From Classic to New Coke and Back Again