Bea Perez is Coca-Cola’s Chief Sustainability Officer; every day it’s her job to create and oversee Coca-Cola's global sustainability strategy.

1. Tell us where you were born and raised… and a bit about your family.

I was born in Connecticut. My mother, who was born in Cuba, received a fellowship at the White House to work under President Carter, so we moved to Maryland when I was in second or third grade. During her fellowship, she earned her real estate license and fell in love with it, so we ended up living in several different places in Maryland. My mother was quite an entrepreneur. My father lived in Spain, so I spent quite a bit of time there growing up, particularly in the summer.

I feel very fortunate to have had great female role models at an early age. My older sister is one of my best friends and an amazing lady. She worked with my mom in her real estate businesses while earning a master’s degree to teach English as a second language. My grandmother owned a bakery in Cuba, and she and my mother instilled in us the belief that we could do anything.

I’m fortunate to work at Coca-Cola because I’ve been able to integrate my family life with my professional life. I am married and I have two children; a son and a daughter. After my son was born, my manager told me to take my time and decide what worked best for me, even if that meant working from home. That conversation changed a lot for me. Knowing the company supported me and other working moms was incredibly important.

2. Do you have an earliest Coca-Cola memory?

Coke was a big part of our daily lives. At my fifth birthday party, I remember my mom having small glass Coca-Cola bottles for all of my friends. Everything was beautifully presented on the table, including little bottle openers at each place setting. Everyone opened their Coke, sang “Happy Birthday” and helped blow out the candles on my cake.

Bea Perez 10 Questions Will.I.Am Ekocycle

Bea Perez with musical artist Will.I.Am

3. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

From the time I was about 5, I wanted to be a trial lawyer and argue cases in the courtroom. My mom says I was a negotiator even at a very young age; every request turned into a negotiation. In a school assignment, I was asked to defend a guilty person during a mock trial. Even though it was only an exercise, I couldn’t do it. I always believed the law was about telling the truth, so it really bothered me to realize that I’d have to defend a guilty person with just as much passion as someone who was innocent.

My mother taught me to think very broadly about my education and not to limit myself. She encouraged me to study things I could take in multiple directions, to use life as a learning experience, and to do things I was passionate about. So when I changed my mind about law, she fully supported me. My mother always said that if you don’t love something, then you shouldn’t do it.

Although I never became a lawyer, some of those capabilities have served me well in my career at Coca-Cola. I found a real passion for negotiating contracts and reaching a good, fair deal for both parties where value is created and exchanged.

4. Outside of work, what are your hobbies?
My number 1 passion is my family. Years ago, I decided that all of my volunteer work and hobbies would focus not only on my children, but on improving the lives of all kids and leaving a legacy by supporting future generations.

I have served on the board of the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation for the last four to five years. I was a Girl Scout when I was young and I’m also very involved with the Girl Scouts to help build the confidence of future generations of girls. And I have partnered with Kyle and Pattie Petty on their Victory Junction Gang Camps, which welcome children with chronic medical conditions and serious illnesses.

I’m also a bookworm. I cannot read enough—from magazines to novels to nonfiction. Yes, I like real books, not just digital ones, although my iPad enables me to read even more on the road. When we moved into our home, the only thing I had to have was a library. I spend a lot of time there—both reading with my kids and by myself. It’s how I relax.

Coca-Cola Bea Perez 10 Questions Kyle Petty

Bea Perez With Nascar Driver Kyle Petty

5. Can you describe your ideal weekend?
I stay busy by getting out with my family and experiencing things together. My routine on the weekends is to wake up before everyone else, make breakfast, read for a bit, and then start waking everyone up. We take walks together as much as possible, with each of us taking turns picking the route. It’s a great way to have a conversation as a family and stay active. I struggled with weight growing up, and still do, so my husband and I make a point to be active as a family and model active behavior with our kids. We use Nike+ Sport Bands to track our mileage and calories burned and started a fun family competition.

Over the last year, our children have planned and prepared our Friday night dinners. We give them a budget, and they plan the meals and purchase everything. When we first started, each meal was an adventure, but they are getting really good! They love salads and even convinced us to plant a vegetable garden in our backyard.

6. How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe in empowering and encouraging members of my team. As the leader, it’s my job to set a vision. The team builds a mission statement for delivering that vision, and then we craft a plan together. I try to follow three guidelines. The first is no surprises. We can’t deliver against a vision unless we’re well informed and work together transparently as a team. Second, to always work within brand and company strategy. Our work should always align with the company’s 2020 Vision. And finally, to always do the right thing... which isn’t always the most popular thing.

As a leader, I know I’ll make mistakes, but I’m committed to learning from them. Early in my career a trusted mentor told me, “Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.” That resonated with me. I’m not afraid to ask for help when I need it, and I expect the same from my team.

7. From NASCAR to American Idol to the NBA, you’ve played an instrumental role in the company's sports and entertainment partnerships. What is your favorite sport and why?

I’ve been fortunate to meet so many extraordinary athletes who have become really good friends, and I’d have to say my work with NASCAR is closest to my heart. From a professional standpoint, it taught me how to work with a cross-functional team and build a vision, plan and roadmap from scratch. On a more personal note, I quickly fell in love with the people, who are amazing, and how the sport is run overall. I was at home a few weeks after my son was born when Kyle Petty, Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd stopped by with a hilarious CD of parenting tips for my husband and me.

In my prior role, as Chief Marketing Officer in North America, I had the privilege of making a number of friends in sports and entertainment. I plan to invite these friends to join our sustainability journey as a way to engage consumers in very meaningful ways.  

8. Do you have a favorite memory from your time leading Sports and Entertainment Marketing for North America?

There are so many. One of my most meaningful memories is helping Ryan Seacrest launch his foundation. We worked on this together outside of the formal partnership Coca-Cola had with him, and it’s one of my most meaningful experiences because of how caring and genuine he is and how important the foundation is to him. I consider it an honor to be his friend because of the depth of his character and the warmth of his personality. 

Here is an embarrassing—but funny—memory. When I was asked to support our partnership with NASCAR, I didn’t know much about racing. Early on, I was responsible for accompanying Dale Earnhardt, Sr. at a photo shoot. I got to the set early and took a seat in a waiting area next to a man and a woman I thought were production workers. Around the time the shoot was scheduled to start, I turned to the woman and asked her to let me know when Dale arrived. The man sitting next to her turns and says, “You mean you wouldn’t know who he was even if he was sitting two chairs down from you?” I could have died… it was Dale and Teresa, his wife! They were waiting to see how long it would take for me to recognize them. Terrified, I pointed and said, “Sir… Mr. Intimidator… I’ll probably get fired if anyone in that corner knows what just happened.” He laughed and said, “Watch this.” He walked over and barked to the crew, “Ms. Perez has given us all of our instructions and says it’s time to shoot… so what are you people doing over there?” We became fast friends.

In 2001, I was with Sandy Douglas at the Daytona 500 when Dale died following a crash during the race. As soon as they covered his car, I knew. Coca-Cola helped the family in the moments and hours following the crash. It was a bittersweet moment. I was so proud of our company for stepping in and helping the family when they needed it. But I was so sad because we’d lost much more than a Coca-Cola partner—we’d lost a great friend.

Bea Perez and Will.I.Am

Bea Perez with mustical artist Will.I.Am

9. As a marketer, what excites you most about your role as Chief Sustainability Officer? What role do our brands play in telling our sustainability story?

It’s incredibly exciting to have the opportunity to communicate to consumers about the character of our brands and to join with them on our sustainability journey. Our brands will continue to take more of a leadership role in engaging consumers and inspiring them to take action. They’ll help us tell our story—that sustainability at Coca-Cola is about growing our business while we enhance personal well-being, build strong communities and protect the environment we all share.

10. If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why?
I’d love to meet Albert Einstein. He was a visionary who looked at complex problems and found simple ways to solve them. He had the ability to identify and solve future challenges—challenges that others couldn’t yet see. I’d love to have a conversation with him about his vision for the world today and the future challenges—and solutions—he’d be able to identify. Our company is fortunate to have a leader and visionary in this same mold.