Celebrating veterans on just one day out of the year is like trying to drink just one sip of Coca-Cola – you want to keep going. 

That’s why Coca-Cola doesn’t just celebrate Veterans’ accomplishments, service and sacrifices on Veterans Day. Appreciating and assisting veterans is a core part of Coca-Cola year-round, from the company’s commitment to hire 5,000 veterans by 2018, to partnering with other companies and non-profits to offer job training and resources as service members leave the military.

Though the efforts have changed over the years to match the needs of the military, the desire to serve and support them has not. Coca-Cola raises a glass (bottle) to Veterans during its annual events at the company’s headquarters in Atlanta. This is the sixth year the company rallied about 400 employees with the goal to stuff 10,000 packages for service members transiting through USO centers.

To keep the heritage of military appreciation alive, Coca-Cola will host Retired Gen. George Casey Jr., former 36th U.S. Army Chief of Staff, and the “Band of Brothers”, a musical group comprised of wounded warriors from Walter Reed Hospital during its 16th Annual Veterans Day Celebration. Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola, will present the Coca-Cola President’s Veterans Recognition Award to Dunkin’ Donuts for honoring and supporting the U.S. military and veterans throughout the year.

“The military is a big part of my life. I’ve been wearing the uniform in some capacity for 20-plus years and supporting veterans is something I’m very passionate about,” said Patrick Haddock, Senior Manager of Customer Business Solutions at Coca-Cola and President of Coca-Cola’s Veterans Business Resource Group. “What we’ve been trying to do each year is include our customers a little bit more.”

Coca-Cola Employees Send Thousands of Care Packages to Troops 3

Committing to Veterans – Part of Coca-Cola’s Culture

Like the secret formula, Santa and sustainability, supporting veterans is part of Coca-Cola’s DNA. But even traditions need a twist now and then. Coupled with the company’s annual Veterans Day celebratory events are new ways Coca-Cola salutes service members.  

Kent demonstrates the company’s unrelenting support for veterans and their families in a PSA alongside an unlikely ally – PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. American Corporate Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting veterans in their transition from the armed services to the civilian workforce, brought the two companies together for the joint message.

Refreshing old rivalries isn’t the only way Coca-Cola has renewed its commitment to Veterans though.

In partnership with Hire Heroes USA and American Corporate Partners, Coca-Cola is holding a hiring workshop and networking event Nov. 12 at its headquarters in Atlanta to expose veterans to corporate hiring expectations. During the first half of the day with Hire Heroes USA, industry experts with hiring experience will review veterans’ resumes and take them through mock interviews. In the afternoon, more than 100 veterans will network with government, industry and nonprofits during the Veterans Employment Transition Conference through American Corporate Partners.

“We are opening the doors of the Company to these veterans,” said John Phillips, director of Finance and System of the Future at Coca-Cola, and founder and Chairman of Coca-Cola’s Annual Veterans Day Celebration. “It’s about deeds, not words. We’ve made a public announcement that we’re going to hire military. We’re doing more than that.”

Many of the people behind the scenes are veterans themselves and attest to the valuable skills veterans bring to companies as well as the struggles they face when stepping into the civilian sector for the first time.  

Haddock, who still serves as an Army Reservist, has firsthand experience. He now mentors veterans entering the workforce through ACP. “I think the problem I’ve seen with most veterans is setting appropriate expectations,” said Haddock. “I think the big struggle I’ve seen with folks is the failure to set reasonable expectations.”

Service members are accustomed to a level of responsibility and authority their peers in the civilian workforce do not typically have until they have been with a company for a long time, Haddock explained.

At the same time, veterans often don’t amplify the experience or skill sets they do have. Like Haddock, Phillips spends a significant amount of his spare time mentoring and focusing on veterans and how he can help them succeed once they separate from the military.

“This is where military people have a difficult time making the transition,” Phillips said. “They have a difficult time nailing down their capabilities. Leadership, cooperation, collaboration – these things that are taught under fire that I think any corporation would kill to have. The problem is when they make the transition they’re not going to have the same level of authority.”

This is where ACP and Hire Heroes USA come in – they help veterans identify their skillsets, then connect them to mentors and coaches to guide them through their job hunt.

With the help of business professionals nationwide, ACP offers veterans tools for long-term career development through mentoring, career counseling, and networking opportunities. The organization has more than 60 participating institutions, including Coca-Cola, which joined ACP in 2014. Since the partnership began, close to 100 veterans have had their lives changed by a Coca-Cola Mentor.

“Networking is such an important part of the transition process, as many of ACP’s veterans have never worked in the corporate world and do not have many contacts outside of the military,” said Rachel Providence, Manager of Corporate Relations for American Corporate Partners. “Providing them with the opportunity to speak with fellow veterans and local business professionals is an integral part of the transition process.”

Just as networking is crucial for veterans – or anyone seeking a job – it is also essential for the organizations that support them. Coca-Cola’s longest-standing partner in supporting the military, the USO, began its partnership with Hire Heroes USA in May 2015 as part of USO Transition 360 Alliance, a comprehensive program that helps service members and their families as they transition from the military into civilian life.

Hire Heroes USA guides veterans through the hiring process using online and in-person services. Once a veteran sends in their resume, the organization is committed to have a professional resume in their hands within five business days. Don Bagnasco, manager of Corporate Outreach and Engagement for Hire Heroes USA, said their mission is to “bridge the gap from where they are to where they need to be.”

“The most effective way to find a job is to network and continue to make connections. We are in the middle of Atlanta with so many big corporations – we are one of the best kept secrets,” Bagnasco added.  

This is the first time American Corporate Partners and Hire Heroes USA are teaming up thanks to Coca-Cola and its partners in VETLANTA, a cohort of Atlanta-based companies focused on supporting and mentoring veterans. The organization manifested from a lunchtime conversation between Phillips and David Wattenmaker, a Marine veteran and Manager of Finance Services and Business Planning & Analytics at Coca-Cola. Lloyd Knight, President of VETLANTA and Director of Global Government Operations at UPS Supply Chain Solutions, said Coca-Cola has been vital to its establishment and success so far.  

“One of our goals is to make Atlanta the number-one destination for veterans,” Knight said. “We’ve been able to encourage partnerships – this event at Coke is a moment where we’ve brought together two nonprofits and industry.”

No matter how many large organizations or companies are involved, these partnerships are personal. Phillips, Haddock and Knight are passionate about mentoring veterans and providing them the tools to transition – and they’ve seen the fruits of their labor.

As an ACP mentor, Haddock helped a young soldier living in North Carolina through the hiring process, from writing his resume to providing interview guidance, to helping him through the offer process. Though the veteran is now employed, Haddock said they still keep in touch.

“Volunteering is a great opportunity for us to export our talents and skills both veteran and non-veteran to help these folks transition,” Haddock explained.

Similarly, Knight was connected to a former Marine determined to work at UPS. There were no positions open at the time, but he stayed connected to the company through ACP and VETLANTA. The Marine was eventually hired when a position opened that matched his skills, largely because he continued to network. That same Marine was promoted after just 15 months at UPS.

“I think that was a great indicator of what these programs can do,” Knight said. “He received help with the transition, he received help with broadening his network and he stayed very involved. He pieced those together and it worked out well for him.”

Phillips has such a strong passion for this area that he wrote a book, Boots to Loafers, Finding Your New True North that details a proven military transition process. He spends his spare time traveling around the country giving seminars to Veterans. “It is simply my way of paying it forward, the least we all can do,” Phillips said.