Ahmet C. Bozer, president of the Coca-Cola Company’s Eurasia and Africa Group, has spent his career demonstrating how a large international company can build a strategy and structure itself to compete in emerging markets. Coca-Cola is one of the most globally active international companies, deriving 80 percent of its sales from outside the U.S., and it is therefore one of the most experienced in tackling emerging markets, including Egypt and Pakistan, where political tension renders the business environment uncertain and Coca-Cola’s strategy has proven resilient.
Bozer, who was born and raised in Turkey, has worked for Coca-Cola since 1990 in various capacities, including operations and finance, as well as leading the Coca-Cola bottling company in Turkey. He is currently based in Istanbul, where he oversees 90 markets, ranging geographically from India and South Asia through the Middle East and all of Africa, across Turkey and the Caucasus into the countries of the former Soviet Union. This territory accounted for 16 percent of Coke’s sales last year, for a retail value of US$10 billion, and Bozer expects that number to grow rapidly during the next decade. Like four other regional presidents, Bozer reports directly to Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent in Atlanta, Ga. Bozer sat down with us at the Coca-Cola offices in New York.
S+B: Your late CEO Roberto Goizueta charged the company to “think global, act local” in its strategy. How do you accomplish this?
BOZER: I wish it was as easy as repeating the slogan. The key for international companies is finding the right mix of global and local in their operations. The Coca-Cola brand is global, but it must be locally relevant. We may be giving the same happiness message, the same brand architecture may be communicated, but it has to be done differently in each country.
S+B: Your structure has strong regional managers such as yourself, but headquarters in Atlanta maintains global responsibility for sales, finance, and marketing — and for specific product lines like water or juices. How do you manage this?
BOZER: We are a franchise system. Our bottlers are primarily local. In Turkey, for example, we have a Turkish bottler. So the effectiveness of our company depends on the effectiveness of our relationships with the bottlers and our brands. To manage franchise relationships, you have to have a geographic orientation. Therefore our organization is primarily geographic. Globally, we have five operating groups: North America, Latin America, Europe, Eurasia and Africa, and Pacific.
At the same time, the juice business requires a different organizational structure than the sparkling beverages business. The raw material costs are high and fluctuate a lot, and there are opportunities to innovate more quickly; we may introduce four or five new variants of a juice in a given year. Thus, there is a matrix. A functional group in Atlanta is in charge of juices worldwide, but they work through the geographic organizations.
We are still evolving in finding the best local and global combination that works for us. When it comes to franchise relations with the bottlers, that is local. We have to make decisions in the local context with the right speed. Quality standards are both local (we adhere to all local government safety regulations) and global (we have our own global, rigorous, quality control standards). But we take advantage of our global properties and collaborate as a global team, bringing the best resources to bear on a specific issue.
S+B: How do you manage disagreements between the field and headquarters?
BOZER: We have been working on it for many years. We all understand that nothing is as black-and-white as we’d like. Let’s say I’m hiring a function leader. I am the ultimate decision maker, but I know that any function leader must operate as part of the global team. He or she must be able to collaborate globally, and the global organization has to be comfortable with that candidate. This is where maturity is important. We emphasize a collaborative process because it makes the decision better. But our culture is purely focused on making the right choice, rather than defining my turf versus your turf. That allows us to make these decisions quickly.