I am writing this on a plane to somewhere, thinking about retiring from The Coca-Cola Company after 21.5 years. That’s almost 8,000 days, 192,000 hours, 40% of my life working for one employer. I resolved to stay at Coke after job-hopping across different companies (e.g., AmSouth Bank, Ralston Purina, Dale Carnegie Training, and Hershey Chocolate).
A friend told me that once folks become part of the beverage industry, they typically stay. But staying long-term with TCCC was always uncertain. I’ve often compared working at TCCC to being a member of Congress. You’re up for re-election every two years, and once elected, your campaign starts all over again. I’ve experienced 11 re-organizations averaging about one every two years. I’ve been mapped into roles, involuntarily relocated, and displaced. Some positions were an absolute joy and others not so much. Often, the work experience came down to the relationship with my manager, the work environment, and the job I was assigned. I’ve worked with and for some terrific leaders. I’ve also worked for some tyrants. Maybe like you, I modeled what I saw in the great ones and learned what not to do from the deficient ones. Leadership is better caught than taught.
My career never defined who I was or am. Honestly, my veins don’t run Coke red. My priorities were different than most. I put my faith and family above all others.
I always wanted to perform well and deliver results. For about half of my time at TCCC, I was focused on myself, my reputation, and my ambitions. It wasn’t until mid-stream that God got ahold of me, and I began understanding that people matter more than performance. Sure, results are significant, and winning makes everything better; I don’t take results and winning for granted. But a personal and public transformation took place in the second half of my Coke tenure. I realized that focusing on people, helping them become the best version of themselves, and creating a positive work environment meant more than a maniacal focus on results. Said another way, the How trumps the What. I learned how I operated mattered, and putting others first typically led to solid results. Much of my transformation is captured in my book, Discipled Leader.
If I’m being transparent, I never ascended to a once desired role, vice president. Sometimes, I look back and sometimes wonder why. But at the end of my career, that’s neither here nor there. But I do have a key takeaway. It may seem cliché. Here it is, position doesn’t equal influence. The higher you go in an organization doesn’t necessarily equate to the level of impact you achieve. I didn’t need to be a VP or lead an organization to be influential. Many of my leaders empowered me to make sound decisions, solve challenging problems, make positive changes, and deliver results as I worked with and through my teams or cross-functional partners.
As Coke and I part ways, allow me to indulge in remembering a few of my favorite things…
Favorite People: Rick Kehr, Ron Renner, Bobby Lyemance, Michael Mathews, Fran Mulholland, Dawn Kirk, Paula Weeks, Ken Mied, Jim Marvel, John Egan, John Lynch, Emma Budzisz, John Rutledge, Jerry Graves, Bill Harris, Mike Griggs, Kurt Ritter, Red Ashby, Eric Blumenthal, Holly Cunningham (Mattingly), Vic Ragland, Rudd Cummings, Andy Alabiso, Lindsay Adleman, Lori Bates, Bob DeBorde, Tim Leveridge, Joe Gentry, Stephen Gibson, Edwin Gotay
Favorite Places: Istanbul, Moscow (pre-conflict), Toronto, Boston, Chicago, New York City, Martha’s Vineyard, Key West, Disneyworld, Universal Studios, Knoxville, Duck Key, San Francisco, Seattle
Favorite Events: Swan Lake Ballet at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater (pre-Ukraine war), NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, NCAA Football National Championship, dancing with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, countless University of Alabama, Auburn University, and Tennessee University athletic events, LA Dodgers game and seeing Tommy Lasorda in the dugout, and attending the Colorado State University Coke conversion celebration
Favorite Celebrity Connections: Ryan Seacrest, Nick Saban, Tommy Tuberville (only one who remembered my name!), Dennis Franchione, Mike Shula, Mal Moore, Phil Fulmer, Lane Kiffin, Bruce Pearl, Pat Summitt, Derek Wittenburg, 3 Doors Down
Favorite Role: Hands down, Franchise Leadership. I loved working with our Bottling Partners and making things happen at ground level.
Least Favorite Role: I had to throw this one in… Strategic Merchandising Solutions. UGH! A peer once asked, “why would anyone on God’s green earth ever want that role?” I attribute turning gray and losing my hair to the intense stress, political posturing, and micro-management I experienced.
Favorite Initiatives: Leading two Employee Engagement Teams (improving leadership, teamwork, and work environment), Change the Landscape (Tuscaloosa low share market turnaround), Fridge Pack Pilot (Alabama was a pre-launch test market), Coke Zero (by far my favorite brand as well), Vault (fighter brand targeting Mt. Dew drinkers), glaceau acquisition (vitaminwater and smartwater), Partnering for Growth (globally scaled team effectiveness workshop), college marketing plans, Brand Partners Summit (brought internal competing brands representatives together), countless sales rallies, Bottling Partner leadership workshops (Reyes and Consolidated), and Design Thinking sessions.
Thanks to my bride and best friend, Carla, and our children, Caroline and Benton. Your sacrifices enabled an enduring and rewarding career. I am so grateful for you all.
Lastly, thanks to Mark Rajewski and the Sales & Franchise Capabilities Team for helping me finish well.
I walk away with my head held high, thankful for my tenure at The Coca-Cola Company, looking to the future, moving out in faith, not knowing where I’m going but trusting God—wanting to follow the call to help people become the best version of themselves and equipping others to become redemptive workplace influencers. Or, in Coke speak, refreshing the world and making a positive difference. I hope our paths cross again someday.
In closing, I leave you with some lyrics from MercyMe’s Say I Won’t (https://music.apple.com/us/album/say-i-wont/1541075065?i=1541075066)… The song inspired me, and I hope it does you as well.
Today It all begins I'm seeing my life for the very first time Through a different lens Yesterday I didn't understand Driving 35 with the rocket inside Didn't know what I had While I've been waiting to live My life's been waiting on me I'm gonna run No, I'm gonna fly I'm gonna know what it means to live And not just be alive The world's gonna hear 'Cause I'm gonna shout And I will be dancing when circumstances drown the music out Say I won't Not enough Is what I've been told But it must be a lie 'Cause the Spirit inside says I'm so much more So let them say what they want Oh, I dare them to try I can do all things Through Christ who gives me strength So keep on saying I won't And I'll keep proving you wrong Say I won't
Time to fly! All my best and take care.
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Your mom told you it’s okay to make mistakes, but that’s not always true. Sometimes success is more dependent on making fewer mistakes, rather than doing something spectacular. Mistakes can matter, and they can matter a lot.
Did you know that the 200th best tennis player wins about 49% of the points he plays? What percentage of points does the number one player in the world win? 53% The difference between barely scraping by and being the best in the world is making 4% fewer mistakes, at least in tennis.
Career mistakes can be just as costly. There’s a big difference between losing a job and being promoted.
For your best career experience, ensure that you avoid making these 10 career mistakes:
- Failing to make your boss look good. Whether you like your boss or not, they potentially have a lot of control over your future. Making your boss look good is positive for your future. Making him look bad doesn’t improve your future prospects. Consider how your words, actions, and decisions impact your boss.
- Failing to network. It’s important to get to know the people in your company and your industry. Many jobs are never posted. They’re simply offered to people. You could be missing out on some great opportunities by keeping to yourself instead of networking. If you ever need a new job, your network can be invaluable.
- Poor wardrobe decisions. Dress for your position or the position one level above yours. Dressing like your boss is generally a good idea. If you’re underdressed, people will assume that you’re not serious.
- Failing to improve. Since you’re going to the same place each day and doing the same things over and over, it only makes sense that you’d improve over time. Do your best to become an expert at your job. Learn everything you can and do the best job you can.
- Ignoring warning signs. Is your industry being replaced by new technology? Is it clear that your boss has it out for you? Few people are fired by complete surprise. There are usually warning signs. Get out while the getting is good.
- Being unreliable. To avoid this mistake, just be reliable. Turn your assignments in on time and do what you say you’re going to do.
- Gossiping. As a general rule, it’s not smart to talk about others. Negative comments often come back to haunt you at a later time. Plus, much of what you hear around the water cooler is false anyway.
- Arriving late and leaving early. Be on time. This goes back to being reliable. Ensure that you put in the required number of hours each day. You don’t want to be known as the person that isn’t pulling their own weight.
- Staying at a job you dislike. If you dislike your job, have enough respect for yourself to look for another one. It’s hard to do something you don’t like well. It’s also hard to hide the fact that you don’t like your job. Do yourself a favor and find a company and position that you enjoy.
- Chasing money. We all work to earn money, but money isn’t the only consideration. Do you like the company, the industry, your boss, and your coworkers? How is the city? How are the benefits? There’s more to a job than just making money.
Before you try to reinvent the wheel at work, focus on being the employee that makes the fewest career mistakes. Avoiding these 10 errors will greatly aid your career and your earning power over the years.
In many instances, avoiding mistakes can be more powerful than doing something incredible!
Want to learn more? Visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
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I’m a disciple of Christ and an executive at a Fortune 500 Company. In my blog, The Discipled Leader, I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work.
As a certified coach, speaker, and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, I help others grow their relationship with Christ, develop their leadership skills, and understand how they can make a positive difference in today’s chaotic world.
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I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work. I invite you to subscribe to my blog and learn how to develop Christlike character, influence your culture and change your world.