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October 13, 2014

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For Coca-Cola exec, life in China is sweet

GLEN Walter, chief executive officer of Coca-Cola Bottling Investments Group China, spoke highly of his experience in Shanghai after staying in the city for five months.

“My kids and I have been amazed by China and the different culture here,” he said during an exclusive interview with Shanghai Daily. Walter has three children, aged 9, 6 and 3.

“We really love the sense of community and family in Chinese culture, and this has brought us even closer together since we moved here,” he said.

Walter has taken a Chinese name, Huo Kelong, which might remind someone of martial arts, and his 3-year-old son already has an interest in kung fu.

“I can’t think of a better gift to give any family than to allow them to experience China,” he said. “This is the greatest gift to my kids.”

Over the past six years he has held a variety of roles within the Coca-Cola Co, including US chief region sales officer and vice president, and general manager for Coca-Cola Enterprises Central US.

Walter added that China is the most dynamic, exciting and also intimidating place to do business. It is the third-largest market in the world for Coca-Cola and its mission is to make China the largest.

“It’s very inspiring to have the opportunity to be a part of this process,” Walter said. “We have built a campaign here called ‘the China Dream’ to double the size of our business in the next five to six years.”

At Coca-Cola Bottling Investments Group, the business focuses on three areas: the employees and their capability, the brands and customers.

“Our mission is not only to create shareholder value but we also have a passion to make a difference in our community,” Walter said.

He pointed out that doubling the size of its business and at the same time using fewer resources is an immense challenge, so the company launched a series of campaigns such as offering safe drinking water for children in rural China.

Walter has traveled to vast regions across the country, including northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province to see how the people work everyday and to check out the economic situation.

He also visited Chongqing and Chengdu in southwest China. Coca-Cola operates in more than 200 countries and regions around the world, and Walter said the company remains very local despite being the most ubiquitous brand in the world.

Different cultural uses of drink

“It’s fascinating to go to a local hotpot restaurant in Chengdu and to see people enjoying Coca-Cola or Sprite and to see people in Heilongjiang warm Coca-Cola and add ginger to it.”

He’s also excited to see its staff work with government authorities and partners to tackle some of the challenges and push for the broader dream of China.

Coca-Cola has been working together with China Youth Foundation in building up Hope Schools and bringing basic education to children in rural areas or inspiring a healthy lifestyle in doing community work.

Coca-Cola Bottling Investment Group currently operates 13 plants in China with about 20,000 workers. Additional facilities will be built as the company grows its presence in the country.

“We have a healthy level of dissatisfaction with our business results, so we can continue to fuel our growth and execution,” Walter said. “We have very strong local competitors.”

Coca-Cola Bottling Investments Group will continue to invest in infrastructure in different regions of China, including toward the size of the organization in such areas as commercial function, IT systems and infrastructure.

“We’re committed to investing in China,” Walter said.

He said he normally spends three days a week at meetings with customers, government officials and suppliers.

He added that making sure the supply chain is producing the safest and highest-quality beverage is the paramount focus.

“We have a very clear understanding and guideline for our supplier partners to operate in, including sourcing of agricultural ingredients as well as raw materials, as they are an extension of the Coca-Cola company in terms of their code of conduct and how they operate,” Walter said.

He added that he’s excited about meeting all of Coca-Cola’s customers, especially local Chinese customers.

“Although most of the time I have to speak to them through an interpreter, I can feel the shared passion for the brand, for the organization and for this idea of fueling the dream for China,” Walter said.


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