What It's Like to Work at Coca-Cola

People always want to know what it was like working for Coca-Cola, the most recognized brand name in the world. I worked for the company for seven years, and whenever anyone asks, I tell them that it was good, bad and ugly; but mostly, it was good.

The people who make lifelong careers at Coca-Cola are all pretty much cut from the same cloth. They are conservative. They are well educated. They are predominantly male. God and family are a huge part of their life. They like hierarchy and structure and do not like to think "outside the box." They don't even know there is a box!

Appearances are important

I remember one of my bosses telling me that it was a good idea to be the first one to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night, so that all the big bosses would see your car has been there all day. Meanwhile, he was the same guy who spent a good part of his day playing computer games, chatting with his wife on the phone and talking to his stockbroker about the latest hot tip in the market. But at least he was there, and so was his car.

Although some people at Coca-Cola do telecommute, there was always an underlying feeling of "If I can't see you, you are not working." I was a sales manager for a good part of my Coca-Cola career and I was fortunate to report to people who cared more about the results that my sales team brought in, rather than my face time in the office. However, somewhat annoyingly, most of the people who actually worked in my office would smirk or make sly comments about my being home, watching soap operas and eating bonbons while they slaved away in the trenches.

Dress code is formal

Coca-Cola tried to get with the times and implement a casual Friday dress code, but it was difficult to know what to wear. Jeans were taboo. Men would typically wear khakis and a button-down Oxford-cloth shirt. It was more difficult for women because the conservative male powers that be were used to women looking like women. If we wore casual pants, we were trying to be like the men. If we wore a dress, we should be home baking cookies, as we were not serious about our careers. I found it easier to just wear a formal skirt suit every day.

Coca-Cola loves to have meetings

People often ask me about the work culture at Coca-Cola. One of my bosses nailed it when he said, "You don't turn the Queen Mary on a dime." I have never worked for the government, but I imagine working at Coca-Cola was a similar experience. The company was so large and had so many people and so many different divisions that it was virtually impossible to make anything happen quickly. We actually had meetings to discuss and plan our next meetings. Sales promotions and marketing ideas had to be signed off all the way up the food chain. This could take weeks. Everyone up the ladder had to cover themselves by getting approval from above to ensure their self-preservation, in case the idea bombed or got bad press.

Seven years, seven managers

My managers during my career at Coca-Cola were very approachable and well-respected. They were simply good people. The problem was, I had seven managers in as many years! Just when I would start to get to know one, the company would restructure and he would be sent to Singapore or somewhere else far away and I would get a new job title and a new boss.

Outsiders assume you have great job security when you work for a large company like Coca-Cola. This is simply not the case. When the economy is bad and the stock price is down, it is time to restructure and improve the bottom line. The easiest way to do this is to eliminate positions at the bottom and divide client coverage and duties among the remaining employees. Insiders at Coca-Cola call it "breathing." You exhale or "blow away" bodies when the economy dictates and then, when the time is right, you "inhale" and hire them back. Coca-Cola never has a shortage of bright candidates who want to come to work for them.

The higher up you were in the company, the safer your job was. You were not let go; you were transferred. One of my managers bragged to me that his son had attended four different high schools in four years due to his career transfers. He said he had had to bribe his kid with a new puppy the last time he was transferred. We figured he would be on the line for a pony the next time he had to make a move!

Location, location

I remained based in California for the duration of my career at Coca-Cola. I initially worked out of the California offices located in Oakland and Pleasanton. I later reported to headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., and then had another position where I reported to someone in Aurora, Colo. I refused to move out of Marin County when the company asked.

Normally, this would have been the death of my career at Coca-Cola. But because I already owned a home in one of the most expensive parts of the country, Coca-Cola was happy to allow me to advance within the company and stay put, because it was cheaper than filling open California positions by moving employees from other areas who would need a relocation package (at an average cost of $120K move).

It's all about the perks

coca-colaWho wouldn't want to work for Coca-Cola? We had some amazing perks! Aside from all the Diet Coke I could drink, I regularly went to meetings in Hawaii, San Diego, New Orleans, Las Vegas and Whistler in British Columbia. Because Coca-Cola has exclusive pouring rights in numerous hotel properties, we stayed at the best places and wined and dined our clients with a very generous expense account. We had box seats for all special events, concerts and football, basketball and baseball games. I still have a closet full of polar-bear shirts and Coca-Cola jackets.

The benefits were good too. My company car was a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. Our health insurance cost approximately $45 per month for an excellent medical, dental, optical and drug plan. The 401K matching plan was very generous; the stock options were huge. They even had a pension plan! In today's sputtering economy, it all sounds pretty good.

Who should work at Coca-Cola?

So, would I recommend a friend go to work for Coca-Cola?

If you like structure, order and hierarchy, if you are willing to move your family at the drop of a hat and will dress your newborn children in Coca-Cola pajamas when you send out birth announcements, it is a wonderful place to work. The people who live, sleep and breathe Coca-Cola are extremely happy working there.

Alas, I am more of an entrepreneur at heart. Since leaving Coca-Cola, I have been self-employed as a mortgage broker. Though a tough business in today's economy, I am far happier. I set my own hours, spend tons of time with my children (8 and 11 years old) and am free to travel whenever I want to. I had a wonderful experience working for Coca-Cola, but it just wasn't for me. I was tired of the bureaucracy and the constant travel. I missed my family.

I was exhaled with a very generous severance package, but I still drink three Diet Cokes a day.

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