Editor’s note: Jenna Gebel spent her summer as an intern at Coca-Cola’s headquarters. During her weeks in Atlanta, Gebel had a chance to meet many company leaders. We asked the 27-year-old MBA candidate at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to share a little about what she learned.
There are many perks to interning for The Coca-Company. Working with smart people on interesting projects. Learning how an innovative, industry-leading global company operates. Discovering the rich history of the brand. Oh, and did I mention free beverages?
While these are great benefits, the best part of being an intern at Coke is the access we have to executives within the company. From marketing and operations to HR and innovation, interns are given the chance to speak with Coca-Cola leaders and hear how they have managed their careers.
Here are some lessons I learned this summer from insightful conversations with Coca-Cola’s leaders.
"You can be a worse them, or a better you."
Wendy Clark, President, Sparkling Brand & Strategic Marketing, Coca-Cola North America
Wendy encourages young people to bring their authentic selves to work and avoid following the crowd mentality. She talks about two key qualities that help her stay true to herself: bravery and belief.
Bravery requires curiosity, passion and courage to disrupt the status quo – even if that means failing at times. “If you aren’t failing, you are leaving some level of innovation on the table,” she said. “And while it’s okay to fail once, if we fail twice at the same thing, it means we’re missing the shared learning opportunity as an organization.”
Belief means having a quiet confidence and sticking to your values. Together, these two qualities have helped Wendy continue to innovate and advance her career at Coca-Cola. “Creativity is one of the best business tools we have,” she said.
"You are not competing in a country; you are competing in the world." Ahmet Bozer, Executive Vice President
So how can we build strong relationships across borders? “Be intent on including people and valuing others’ opinions, even if it is uncomfortable,” he said. “People will feel valued if you are genuinely interested in their contributions. It’s one of the things that will differentiate you in your career progression.”
When asked his best piece of career advice, Ahmet said: “Whatever profession you are in, see everything you do as a platform for your own personal development. Learn, decide, act, reflect and learn again. Go deeper in your learnings and don’t ever stop this cycle.”
"Do what you love and always deliver results." Bea Perez, Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President
A marketer by trade, Bea has held various roles across the business over her 21-year tenure at Coca-Cola. While she is known to achieve impressive results, her ability to maintain work-life balance is equally as impressive.
When talking about her priorities, Bea said, “I divide my time among work, family and some for myself. But at the end of the day, my family is my first priority.”
Bea said that a key contributor to her success is knowing that nothing is ever done alone, and she credits her support system for enabling her to deliver strong results. “Success,” she says, “comes from having multiple support systems, which include family, community and colleagues.”
"My family and I enjoyed and grew tremendously through every move and every culture." Javier Goizueta, President, McDonald’s Division
Javier always hoped that his career would bring him back to his adopted hometown of Atlanta. He started working for Procter & Gamble in 1981. His various roles led Javier and his family to Birmingham, Ala., New Orleans, Miami, Jacksonville, Fla., Cincinnati, Sao Paulo and Mexico City.
From Mexico, Javier joined Coca-Cola in 2001 in Houston but was able to return to Atlanta in 2005.
“I finally was able to work and live where I wanted to, when I was 50 years old,” Javier said. “But my family and I enjoyed and grew tremendously through every move and every culture and because, of that, we are all trilingual.
"Habits matter." Monica McGurk, Senior Vice President of Strategy, Decision Support & e-Commerce, Coca-Cola North America
“When I was in my twenties, one of my mentors told me, ‘You think you can do everything now. You are single, driven and have few responsibilities. You think you can work an 80-hour work week, that having a life doesn’t matter, that it’s only for a few years. But you are wrong. Because even if you can do it now, you are setting bad habits for the rest of your life. When you want kids, marriage and flexibility, you will have a hard time pivoting and creating space for what matters.”
Monica took this advice to heart and advises young people starting their careers, “Figure out what kind of life you want and work to that now.”
"Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want." Mona Kelly, Group Director, Program and Change Management
And that is exactly how she landed a position at Coca-Cola nearly 31 years ago.
“I met someone during my first job out of school who was working for Coke,” she said. “I told her that I had always dreamed of working there and, two years later, I got the call.”
When giving advice to young leaders, Mona always reminds them, “You are a jewel. Don’t let anyone (e.g. a company, leaders, etc.) make you feel less than that. Think about your goals. How can the company you work for get you there? It’s a risk to settle someplace you aren’t growing.”