By the time Hurricane Harvey hit Rick Kehr’s home in Fulshear, Texas, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm, but it had by no means stopped wreaking havoc.

Kehr, general manager at Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages (CCSWB), was ready for it.

He rode out the storm in his house, having dug canals around his home to help disperse the water. His was only one of two homes on his street where water stopped at the house without flooding it.

So, once the storm was done Kehr jumped in to help, tearing out soaked rugs and baseboards – anything that could mold – for those who had been less fortunate.

But it wasn’t only his neighbors on Kehr’s mind. It was also the 1,506 CCSWB employees he is directly responsible for and the other 545 who work alongside him in the Southeast Market Unit.

People, Customers and Community

During his tenure with Coca-Cola, Kehr has experienced five hurricanes: Ivan, David, Katrina, Rita and now Harvey.

Though he’s learned that no two hurricanes are the same in impact, Kehr has helped develop a preparation and response system to tackle any surprises that might come Coca-Cola’s way. It requires immense preparation and seamless teamwork.  

Betewen June 1 and November 30, prime hurricane season, CCSWB includes weather notices in daily safety messages. Numerous conference calls before and after storms help ensure everyone is on the same page. Department managers store severe weather protocols in hard copy binders, so that in the case of power outages, the way forward it clear.

Logistics aside, CCSWB’s approach falls into three principles: people, customers and community.

From a people standpoint, CCSWB and the Southeast Texas Market Unit Leadership team stayed connected to their associates, keeping in contact with them to prepare for the storm and to understand their status and safety once it hits. Following the storm, employees’ continued safety is also key. Any piece of equipment that may have touched contaminated flood waters is sent for cleaning, repair or replacement by a specialized third party before Coca-Cola associates come into contact with it.

For customers, retaining access to critical hydration beverages is key, as power disruptions often lead to unsafe water supplies. CCSWB’s maintenance of effective delivery post-Harvey has been particularly significant given the power grid failure experienced in Beaumont, Texas.  

For the broader community, CCSWB stays in close contact with evacuation and relief agencies, such as the Red Cross and FEMA, partnering to support and hydrate displaced peoples.

“Sometimes they’re our neighbors, sometimes they’re our customers," Kehr said. "We do the things we do to help our city recover.”

A Team Effort

Though his experience shapes many of CCSWB’s hurricane protocols, Kehr is reticent to claim credit for his team’s response.

“The difference between success and failure is a great team," he explains. "This holds true in the Southeast Texas Market Unit.”

The scale of these efforts, can perhaps only be understood by the sheer number of people involved in developing and executing the strategies. Managers and directors Billy Scherry, Randy Treece, Ivory Harrison, Thomas Hoffmann, Jana Ferrante and their teams provided great support to ensure proper care for people, customers and community.

They further received support from all levels of CCSWB, including the entire executive leadership team. Mark Schortman, president and CEO of CCSWB, and Jean Claude Tissot, chief commercial officer were involved in these efforts, along with CCSWB’s holding company Arca Continental.

“This is not about Rick Kehr," Rick said. "This is about the associates of the Southeast Texas market unit who all rose to help their community, their customers and their peers in preparing for, dealing with and now recovering from the flooding.”

With all his team’s preparation, they were already able to begin delivering beverages again this week, much earlier than many area-distributors of other products. His team continues to ensure that those who have been impacted receive the hydration they need, recognizing that the impact of Harvey will be felt for some time.

“I can’t tell you how humbled I am, how proud I am to be a part of this team, whose perspective is that in addition to their families, they want to take care of their customers, their teammates and their communities.”

He concludes, “The associates who are here are, to me, heroes for how they helped deal with the situation.”