The Coca-Cola Company
1986 – 2000
I cut my teeth in my first corporate job at the age of 23 as a salesman for The Coca-Cola Company.
They assigned me the Miami territory (Key West to Fort Lauderdale), and I spent the next two years selling the country’s favourite drink to mom-and-pop restaurants from a banana-coloured Cheverlot station wagon.
There must have been something about that car – because after two years on the job, I became one of the top salesmen in the country. I was promoted to the company’s headquarters in Atlanta, where I trained thousands of Coca-Cola salespeople from all over the United States.
But that was just the beginning.
In 1990 I was approached by Donald Keough, the president of The Coca-Cola Company and the man who would become my lifelong mentor.
He had a proposition for me: I would become Coca-Cola’s first employee in the Soviet Union.
So like any American-born, Canadian-raised Coke salesman, I jumped at the chance to pack up my life and move over to Russia, armed with nothing more than a letter of support from my mentor and inspiration.
And the first thing I did when I got there?
I sent a shipment of Coca-Cola to the North Pole with a Russian Polar Expedition to get the brand recognized in the Soviet Press.
During the first six months I lived in the Kremlin’s Communist Party hotel, worked at a local drinks factory and explored the city while I learned to speak fluent Russian.
I was the first non-Soviet citizen to buy an apartment in Moscow, and I was the first person to trade roubles for dollars – carrying $100,000 of roubles in cash, from imported Coca-Cola can sales, to the bank for a conversion and wire transfer to our headquarters in Atlanta.
(I think the Coca-Cola CFO is still in shock to this day.)
But somehow, throughout all of this, I managed to get Coca-Cola onto the Moscow summit table between George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 – a feat that earned me a place in the internal KO Magazine, as well as a personal fax from Donald Keough.
It was a struggle getting Coke into Russia, but on December 17th. 1991, the Mayor of Moscow signed our deal.And just a couple of years after that, we opened our first Coca-Cola factory in Moscow.
I went on to become Brand Coca-Cola’s Global Brand Manager, the Company’s Director of Learning Strategy for Europe and a Deputy Division President for Northwest Europe – and after fourteen years at the company, it felt like I’d earned the equivalent of several MBAs in Sales, Marketing, and Learning.
But it was time for a change.