"What The Armed Services and Coca-Cola Have Taught Me…” is an article series spotlighting veterans who are applying their skills and experiences from the U.S. Armed Forces to their work with Coca-Cola. This is the last story in the series created to celebrate Veterans Day.

Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) John W. Phillips has spent much of his life translating “what is” into “what could and should be” with great success. Using innovation and taking ownership of his experiences has been a hallmark in his military and civilian careers. Here, LTC Phillips shares how he has taken his passion for military service and revolutionized how veterans are integrated into the civilian workforce at The Coca-Cola Company and beyond. 

What Could and Should Be

Life in the military
Phillips was honored as a Distinguished Military Graduate earning a Bachelor of Science in Finance in 1982.

LTC Phillips began his military career as a Private in the U.S. Army. He went on to matriculate at the University of Central Florida (UCF) where he served as the Commander of the Corps of Cadets during his senior year. He was honored as a Distinguished Military Graduate earning a Bachelor of Science in Finance in 1982. LTC Phillips was later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in Field Artillery and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999.

For the last 15 years, LTC Phillips has learned some critical lessons that have formed the basis for his passionate pursuit of the inclusion of veterans in the corporate world.  

“I have a passion for the military. When I speak about the shared benefits of having a corporate workforce full of veterans, I don’t need notes. In the military, you’re taught to think in terms of “we.” Your very life can depend on what the person to your left and right is doing to further the mission. In the corporate world, it becomes more about “I” – those two ways of thinking are very different. Communication styles in the military and corporate worlds are also different. In the military, communication is very direct, very black-and-white. In the corporate world, things can be gray, and you have to be adept at understanding what’s implied,” said LTC Phillips. “I want to help military servicemen and women understand those differences and navigate this world. It’s been a lot of work and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t see the absolute value to everyone involved.”

Living Your Passion, Expanding the Vision

In 1999, LTC Phillips also recognized a need, specifically within The Coca-Cola Company, to tap into the skills and experiences of veterans and make them a viable part of the Company’s workforce.

Life in the military
Phillips retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999.

“I attended the Veteran’s Heritage Day Parade in downtown Atlanta in 1999 and, Coca-Cola – as large and as integral as we are to the city – we just weren’t represented. I saw a need and I wanted to do something about it. At first, it was challenging to get answers as to why we didn’t have a presence with veterans, until I reached someone who saw the value of a pipeline for veterans into the workforce,” said LTC Phillips. “Five minutes into that meeting, I was given the go-ahead to plan a Veterans Day event in 2000 at the Atlanta Office Complex. It was the first of its kind. Working at Coca-Cola has given me a platform to live out my passion. During our first Veterans Day celebration 15 years ago, we formed the Veteran’s Business Resource Group (BRG). This group has since grown into ‘Vetlanta,’ an extension of the BRG. It is a collective of veterans groups across the Fortune 100 companies in Atlanta. As the name suggests, its focus is creating opportunity in Atlanta for veterans, with the ultimate goal of helping veterans find jobs and becoming a productive citizens in the community.”

Because of his passion for the military, LTC Phillips has created a legacy for himself and veterans inside and outside of Coca-Cola. He is the founder of The Coca-Cola Company Veterans Day Celebration and co-founder of the Coca-Cola Military Veteran BRG. He is the author of from "Bootstraps to Loafers, Finding Your New Truth North" and a renowned public speaker, where he often discusses making the transition from military to civilian service. LTC Phillips also serves as Director, Finance Transformation for Coke One – North America (CONA), a multi-year initiative that is revolutionizing how the Coca-Cola system operates.

Coke’s Commitment to Veterans

Beginning in 2015, The Coca-Cola Company will partner with American Corporate Partners to roll out a dedicated
mentorship program for veterans to help translate military experience to the civilian workforce. A group of 50 Coca-Cola mentors will be announced during our Veterans Day activities on Nov. 12. Visit www.acp-usa.org/Mentoring Program to learn more about this important initiative.