Interview Transcript

What about grooming a good leader? How would you look at developing young leaders?

Maybe I’ll talk about how we did that at Coca Cola. I was involved in helping define the roadmap. At the time, the big P&L (profit and loss) role was the country general manager. Most countries in Europe with a bit of Asia and Africa, a typical country would have a few hundred million in revenue, and the top job was the country general manager. We said, “What does it take to groom someone to be a country general manager?”

We had a few criteria, and I’m sure my list will be shorter than the reality. First, all general managers need to understand more than their own country. As part of grooming someone to be a general manager, they need to have worked in at least two countries. That helps them build their network abroad. In Coca Cola, we were in all 300 countries in the world or whatever it is, so you build a network, but also, it helps improve their English because typically, when you go and be an expat somewhere else, you have to improve your English. You see a whole different way of manufacturing, distribution, sales, marketing, etc. Loads of good things came out of at least a two-year stint abroad.

Another thing we said was, for Coca Cola, the primary function is sales and distribution, especially sales. A lot of people might think it’s marketing, but in terms of the number of people and success, sales probably drives it because sales is not just sales. Sales is also in-outlet marketing. How do you make sure there is a cold, attractive drink within arm’s reach of every single thirsty person in your country? In cinemas, shops, restaurants, bars, kiosks, on the street, in supermarkets, etc. Getting that done systematically at scale is important, so we said all general managers need to have worked in at least two functions, one of which is sales. When we say work, we don’t mean job shadowing; we mean at least two years in a job with real responsibility.

We also had an assessment centre, where we tried to identify these general managers four to six years before they would get the job to check for intellect, work ethic, humility, action orientation, etc. That wasn’t necessarily a green light or non-green light, but it would identify things they need to work on during the next four to six years as part of being groomed to be a general manager. We also had an internal MBA, which was eight weeks spread over a year, so two weeks at business school, two weeks visiting a country to focus on sales and marketing, two weeks focusing on another country, focusing on operations and finance, and then two-week projects where they’re doing collaborative, cross-functional, international projects, spread over a year.

First, it helped give them the skills they might not pick up in their day jobs. It also built them an awesome network. Typically, those courses, we have 40 people per year, 40 other future leaders from around the world who would also be going places, so it gave them a great network of friends and colleagues around the world to call on. You add it all together and it became incredibly powerful. Our part of Coke, which was 28 countries, ended up being acknowledged as the best-run part of Coke in the world, and a big chunk of it was because we had the best leaders.

So, it’s a holistic approach to experiencing different countries and parts of the business to give you that experience required to run a PnL?

Absolutely. Big organisations like Coke or the army can do that; they can say, “What does it take to be a general?” “What does it take to be a country general manager?” and groom you. In this day and age, though, a lot of companies aren’t big enough to give you everything you need, so you need to manage your own career. I think for anyone listening to this, I’d say, “Where do you want to be in five or ten years, and what skills do you think you need to get there?”

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