Reesha Padmanabh, VP Marketing of the Global Business Society shares her experience at the Business Responsibility in Emerging Markets event held at the Kelley School of Business last week.
The Kelley School of Business Atrium was decked up with an elegant stage. There was an air of excitement as students arrived dressed sharply. Enthusiastic whispers filled the air as Curt Ferguson, the President of Coca Cola of North Africa and Middle East region, walked in. Thus began the much anticipated “Business Responsibility in Emerging Markets” event, sponsored by the Institute for International Business (IIB), Global Business Society (GBS) and Net Impact.
The IIB, Net Impact and GBS Leadership teams welcomed him to his alma mater. As VP of Marketing, GBS, I was thrilled at the opportunity of personally interacting with the leader who is responsible for all aspects of Coca Cola’s business in 33 countries selling over 1.5 billion cases of Coca Cola products annually to more than 768 million consumers from Morocco to Egypt in North Africa and Ghana in West Africa through the entire Middle East and Central Asia in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The event, attended by over 130 graduate and undergraduate students, kicked off with Ash Soni, Executive Associate Dean for Academic Programs, introducing the guest speaker, his background and achievements. Curt Ferguson then took over the stage. He captivated the audience through sharing his experiences over the years. He offered insights that opened our eyes to how situations in different economies affected products and their marketing strategies, and how environmental sustainability and social responsibility were integrated in every business decision.
Curt revealed how Coca Cola undertook marketing campaigns in developing countries without being limited by political situations. During difficult times between India and Pakistan, Coca Cola worked towards building friendliness and mutual liking between citizens of the two countries through providing live communication portals. It was endearing to watch a video showing the impact of this campaign. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ts_4vOUDImE)
It was fascinating to learn about Coca Cola’s 5by20 initiative towards Women Empowerment launched in 2010. Coca Cola believes that investing in women will enable economic growth and sustainable development. Through this program, over 550,000 women in 44 countries have been empowered through various programs driven by the major elements of the Coca Cola value chain.
It was especially interesting to know about a program which brought around 100 students from countries such as Syria, Jordan, Israel, Yemen and Palestine in the Middle East to Indiana University every summer to attend classes, participate in case competitions and discuss about various business opportunities in their countries. Curt, who serves on the International Committee for the Indiana University Foundation, expressed a desire to link the MBA student body at Kelley with students in those countries, in order to initiate discussions among students belonging to similar age groups and having common interests.
The floor was then opened to questions. Curt answered various queries posed by several students from different geographic backgrounds. One interesting question revolved around Coca Cola’s choice between the trademark Coca Cola glass bottle in some countries and aluminum cans in others. Curt revealed how it was reasonable to manufacture glass bottles in some regions such as the Middle East where sand was abundantly available. He also encouraged everyone to recycle Coke cans indicating how easy and economical it was to recreate a new can from a recycled one.
Curt’s talk was followed by a reception allowing students to network over food and Coca Cola products. Sarah Nagelvoort, President of Kelley Net Impact, said, “Net Impact’s goal for the event was to reach students with the message that industry leaders such as Coca Cola have recognized that social and environmental responsibility are not just another box to be checked but integral steps in doing business and creating long-term value.” Adan Abbey, President of Kelley GBS, said, “Curt's presentation was insightful and gave attendees a glimpse into the challenges and opportunities of running a business in a dynamic region of the world, the Middle East and North Africa. As a manager, keeping your pulse on the rapidly changing external environment, and not being afraid to make the tough calls, were some key messages that stood out to me.”
Overall, the event served as a fantastic learning platform for the attendees, was very well organized and greatly lauded by all.