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Of Bears, Excellence, and Effervescence: How Coke Continues to Lead

Date posted: January 20, 2015

It’s been more than 20 years since Cola-Cola introduced its iconic animated polar bears (and nearly 100 years since polar bears were initially used to market the company’s flagship product: the first Coca-Cola polar bear print ad appeared in France in 1922); perhaps because of the winter setting, I’ve always associated the bears with the holiday season. Or it might be because I’ve always associated Coke with the season. In our neighborhood, while the adults were enjoying conspicuously rummy eggnog at holiday gatherings, the kids were given frosty floats made from Coke and vanilla ice cream, something I enjoy to this day.

I’m off on this tangent because I’ve been thinking and writing so much about global business, and it seems to me that Coca-Cola was on the literal forefront of what most commercial enterprises experience today: global competition. In the case of Coke, its global presence has had an indelible effect. As Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, has noted: “Coca-Cola is the only business in the world where no matter which country or town or village you are in, if someone asks what do you do, and you say you work for Coca-Cola, you never have to answer the question, ‘What is that?’”

Another question to ask comes to my mind: how do they manage that feat? A recent video post on the E2open Facebook page gives at least part of that answer, as Chris Lauchner, global director, Supply Chain, at The Coca-Cola Company, discusses how the implementation of a Center of Excellence (COE) helped drive innovation in their supply chain planning and execution.

According to Lauchner, COEs help Coke’s supply chain in three principal ways:

  • Enabling integrated planning by putting all the elements of planning and the right processes together into one organization, something particularly key to global organizations.
  • Standardizing execution, so manufacturing, logistics, and procurement can capture and disseminate effective processes across the organization.
  • Being an education platform to train disparate parts of the organization on standards.

COEs underscore the importance of not just focusing on one functional area; to work most effectively, COEs need to address all functions at the same time. Why? To align the organization and to eliminate silos and disparate metrics. In Coke’s case, Lauchner says COEs are used to “build a tree of metrics that drives everyone in the same direction.”

That Coke is leveraging COEs should not be surprising. According to a Gartner study of global chief supply chain officers (CSCOs), 71 percent of organizations are now employing COEs.

If I may borrow a metaphor from the beverage world, COEs keep ideas bubbling in the supply chain—an effervescent supply chain. In today’s global competition, the last thing leaders need is a supply chain that goes flat.

And with that, I’ll return to my delicious float and the polar bears that rise from its taste to my winter imagination.