Fun fact: The Coca-Cola company has 770,000 employees. If Coke were a country, it would be the 164th largest in the world, edging out Bhutan at roughly 735,000+ inhabitants. I recently learned said “fun fact” when spending a day with some of Coke’s executives along with a group of several other Global Shapers.
The reason I highlight this staggering headcount is because when you think about the heads of a country, you think of people who are inaccessible and not necessarily down-to-earth. Since Coke (by headcount) is basically a country (albeit spread across the globe), I had similar assumptions clouding my expectations going into the day. Yet, no matter who we met, the overarching theme that stood out to me from our conversations was what underpinned them: that each and every one of Coke’s top executives were entirely approachable and engaging. More so, had we not been educated on some of their titles and bio’s prior to meeting them, we would have never known since none of them made a point to share their distinguished titles or accolades. Rather, each made a concerted effort to get to know us (ie under 30-somethings) and felt that we had something to of importance to share with them.
Like my Global Shaper counterparts who were all selected because we share the commonality of being entrepreneurs, working day-to-day in a traditional corporate environment is either a thing of the past (for some of us) or something we’ve never experienced (for others). So, you can imagine, every part of the day during our interactions with Coke’s leaders was notable on many levels. When you arrive at headquarters you’re greeted by a security guard who checks your ID and permits your entrance. Upon entering the building, you do the same and create a photo name badge and sign in. After passing through a metal detector, you wait in a beautiful lobby for your host to greet you. Then you walk through a rotunda that resembles what I’d imagine the UN to look like (marble abounding, flanked with flags from around the world), and through great hallways to your elevator and corridor of your destination. Large wood tables and big leather chairs are the decor of choice (or Coca-Cola red ones in certain areas).
This is a far cry from my home office out of which I work alone and run three companies with the help of technology to keep me connected to my business partner, contractors, and the like. Taking in these prestigious-feeling surroundings was a bit of a culture shock from my day-to-day. I’m accustomed to needing to leave “the office” to go a meeting or event in order to get face-to-face human interaction whereas in a building of this size, you’d likely need to go to a lot of effort to get away from anyone else and find complete quiet.
We did everything that day from have closed door meetings with department heads who run the operations behind the things we see as consumers every day to sit on a panel in front of dozens of Coke’s top leaders to talk about what it’s like to be a young entrepreneur today. A highlight was having dinner and drinks with all of these leaders and engaging in casual conversation, learning about things like their career trajectories, their kids, and their travels.
For anyone, to spend a day completely outside of your norm is eye-opening and exciting. To go inside the world’s most popular brand, meet the people who help keep it such a success, and learn about their struggles and successes was fascinating. More so, to be a part of dialogues as part of the brainstorming around how to facilitate some of those issues was equally a treat. I’m always amazed when “powerful” people showcase in 1 on 1 environments that they are approachable and haven’t gotten too full of themselves to relate to we “regular folk”. It was a fun and encouraging day to meet everyone and see how open-minded they are and willing to share ideas. I hope to have similar experiences with other great leaders in the future who share this sense of groundedness. If you’ve ever read an issue of US Weekly you may be familiar with the “Celebrities are just like us” section where famous people are captured on camera going to Starbucks, the grocery store, or the dry cleaner. This was the my business celebrity version of that 😉