What It's Like to Work at Coca-Cola

People always want to know what it was like working for Coca-Cola, the most recognized brand name in the world. I worked for the company for seven years, and whenever anyone asks, I tell them that it was good, bad and ugly; but mostly, it was good.

The people who make lifelong careers at Coca-Cola are all pretty much cut from the same cloth. They are conservative. They are well educated. They are predominantly male. God and family are a huge part of their life. They like hierarchy and structure and do not like to think "outside the box." They don't even know there is a box!

Appearances are important

I remember one of my bosses telling me that it was a good idea to be the first one to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night, so that all the big bosses would see your car has been there all day. Meanwhile, he was the same guy who spent a good part of his day playing computer games, chatting with his wife on the phone and talking to his stockbroker about the latest hot tip in the market. But at least he was there, and so was his car.

Although some people at Coca-Cola do telecommute, there was always an underlying feeling of "If I can't see you, you are not working." I was a sales manager for a good part of my Coca-Cola career and I was fortunate to report to people who cared more about the results that my sales team brought in, rather than my face time in the office. However, somewhat annoyingly, most of the people who actually worked in my office would smirk or make sly comments about my being home, watching soap operas and eating bonbons while they slaved away in the trenches.

Dress code is formal

Coca-Cola tried to get with the times and implement a casual Friday dress code, but it was difficult to know what to wear. Jeans were taboo. Men would typically wear khakis and a button-down Oxford-cloth shirt. It was more difficult for women because the conservative male powers that be were used to women looking like women. If we wore casual pants, we were trying to be like the men. If we wore a dress, we should be home baking cookies, as we were not serious about our careers. I found it easier to just wear a formal skirt suit every day.

Coca-Cola loves to have meetings

People often ask me about the work culture at Coca-Cola. One of my bosses nailed it when he said, "You don't turn the Queen Mary on a dime." I have never worked for the government, but I imagine working at Coca-Cola was a similar experience. The company was so large and had so many people and so many different divisions that it was virtually impossible to make anything happen quickly. We actually had meetings to discuss and plan our next meetings. Sales promotions and marketing ideas had to be signed off all the way up the food chain. This could take weeks. Everyone up the ladder had to cover themselves by getting approval from above to ensure their self-preservation, in case the idea bombed or got bad press.

Seven years, seven managers

My managers during my career at Coca-Cola were very approachable and well-respected. They were simply good people. The problem was, I had seven managers in as many years! Just when I would start to get to know one, the company would restructure and he would be sent to Singapore or somewhere else far away and I would get a new job title and a new boss.

Outsiders assume you have great job security when you work for a large company like Coca-Cola. This is simply not the case. When the economy is bad and the stock price is down, it is time to restructure and improve the bottom line. The easiest way to do this is to eliminate positions at the bottom and divide client coverage and duties among the remaining employees. Insiders at Coca-Cola call it "breathing." You exhale or "blow away" bodies when the economy dictates and then, when the time is right, you "inhale" and hire them back. Coca-Cola never has a shortage of bright candidates who want to come to work for them.

The higher up you were in the company, the safer your job was. You were not let go; you were transferred. One of my managers bragged to me that his son had attended four different high schools in four years due to his career transfers. He said he had had to bribe his kid with a new puppy the last time he was transferred. We figured he would be on the line for a pony the next time he had to make a move!

Location, location

I remained based in California for the duration of my career at Coca-Cola. I initially worked out of the California offices located in Oakland and Pleasanton. I later reported to headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., and then had another position where I reported to someone in Aurora, Colo. I refused to move out of Marin County when the company asked.

Normally, this would have been the death of my career at Coca-Cola. But because I already owned a home in one of the most expensive parts of the country, Coca-Cola was happy to allow me to advance within the company and stay put, because it was cheaper than filling open California positions by moving employees from other areas who would need a relocation package (at an average cost of $120K move).

It's all about the perks

coca-colaWho wouldn't want to work for Coca-Cola? We had some amazing perks! Aside from all the Diet Coke I could drink, I regularly went to meetings in Hawaii, San Diego, New Orleans, Las Vegas and Whistler in British Columbia. Because Coca-Cola has exclusive pouring rights in numerous hotel properties, we stayed at the best places and wined and dined our clients with a very generous expense account. We had box seats for all special events, concerts and football, basketball and baseball games. I still have a closet full of polar-bear shirts and Coca-Cola jackets.

The benefits were good too. My company car was a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. Our health insurance cost approximately $45 per month for an excellent medical, dental, optical and drug plan. The 401K matching plan was very generous; the stock options were huge. They even had a pension plan! In today's sputtering economy, it all sounds pretty good.

Who should work at Coca-Cola?

So, would I recommend a friend go to work for Coca-Cola?

If you like structure, order and hierarchy, if you are willing to move your family at the drop of a hat and will dress your newborn children in Coca-Cola pajamas when you send out birth announcements, it is a wonderful place to work. The people who live, sleep and breathe Coca-Cola are extremely happy working there.

Alas, I am more of an entrepreneur at heart. Since leaving Coca-Cola, I have been self-employed as a mortgage broker. Though a tough business in today's economy, I am far happier. I set my own hours, spend tons of time with my children (8 and 11 years old) and am free to travel whenever I want to. I had a wonderful experience working for Coca-Cola, but it just wasn't for me. I was tired of the bureaucracy and the constant travel. I missed my family.

I was exhaled with a very generous severance package, but I still drink three Diet Cokes a day.

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Black Rock Star

YOU ARE SO SPOT ON! Lol. Your mention of the importance of "appearances" brings back memories. Very conservative culture. New ideas and suggesting different ways of doing things are not preferred to simply going along with the program-EVEN if that program is has no chance of reaching the goals. To do so is not welcome by Directors and VP's, who have a vested interest in delivering the plan that was given to them. In a nutshell, this is where ideas go to die.

December 13 2014 at 5:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I find your opinion very interesting. You are speaking from your own point of view which i can respect, but find it very closed minded of the reality across the different chains that Coca-Cola functions in. I work out of the same respective cities that you do; and observe that being a minority only gets you further in Coca-cola.

Coca-Cola recently had a individual that was in the College program that wears "Hot pink" heals and a nose ring attend a grand opening and was welcomed by the company for promotion. This individual has no idea how to manage and no ability to communicate effectively to her associates but yet is promoted. It is what i would presume as being fast-tracked for "the sake" of Coca-Cola.

Recently, a majority of associates where put on performance improvement programs (pip). These individuals where never informed why they where placed onto this progressive disciplinary action. All they where told is that it is from the prior year, told that they will be "OK" and that it had to be done. It is interesting how the "Fairness" plays out when you are not favored by Coca-Cola management and only continuously deceived to promote a persons individual growth in the company VS the success of the company...

Sad indeed

August 01 2013 at 11:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brendan Williams

I worked for Coca Cola as a Merchandiser after I graduated from HS. I left with a very mixed opinion. The company was really good in my opinion, however a normal work week was 60 hours and during a holiday about 70 hours. The benefits were really nice; I had medical insurance, a 401k option, paid holidays (kind of, if I was off that day I got a full 8hrs pay, but if it fell on a route day I got double pay), paid vacation, free soda, a bunch of Coke swag, and some other things. My work week was set at Wednesday to Sunday, 6am till finish. Normally Wednesdays were 6am to 3pm, Thursdays were 6am to 3pm, Fridays 6am to 5pm, Saturdays 6am to 7pm, and Sundays 6am to 2pm. We were all told at a meeting once that Coke has the money to spend and doesn't care about us getting overtime, and that we are to work a minimum of 10hrs a day before we could even consider being finished. That was the reason I eventually quit was because they worked us like slaves for the 10.75/hr (16.53/hr OT) wage.

October 27 2012 at 10:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I work in Detroit at CC. They have no regard for family life or personal life. The pay is good but it doesn't help when they force you 70-80 hours a week. It's tearing my family apart with no concern from the company!

November 07 2011 at 7:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I also worked at coke, the Flint, MI location as a seasonal
pay was ok, hours were long, had to clean up after a bunch of crybaby , lazy union warehouse workers

Final straw was when they were going to force seasonal employees to pay union dues without getting the union backing , pay or benefits

August 11 2011 at 11:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

they say nothing of the average worker..screw the ceo's,the average workers are who built coke,pepsi,and every other major company,yet they get no recognition...w/o the little people,there would be NO LARGE COMPANIES!!,PERIOD.......and milo..how can the left hand know what the right hand is doing when the two hands are controlled b y different entities,typical corporate bull-****...no departments know what the others are doing,amazing they in business,is just they are so big and control the market that they can get away with it

July 04 2011 at 12:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No difference between Coke and any other large multi national corperation or the Government ..... They are so big the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing and the people who reach the top of the ladder rob the corperation and the Government blind before they leave........The only people who really get screwed are the stock holders and the taxpayers..............

December 19 2010 at 8:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wish there was a C.C. plant here in Detroit! We need more factory jobs! We need jobs period! Sure works sucks but hey, at least it's a job.

December 19 2010 at 5:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As the wife of a current blue collar employee, I am disappointed in this article. Sure, as an individual in the sales department you may reap of great benefits and plentiful of opportunities for time to waste. However, the true back bone of the company (those working the production lines, warehouse and delivery guys), they are the ones who can truly attest to the true value of the company: horrible. Unfortunately, my husband has given this company 13 years of his life and has seen this company go down the hole. Workers work 10 hours shifts, choose their vacations a year in advance, and, oftentimes, they are forced to work 2-3 day shifts weekly when the season is slow (this is where most of their vacation pay goes, to cover those days when there is no work). Luckily, my husband is fortunate enough to be on his way out (getting his education to leave this job). All workers at this company are under appreciated. Management only cares about them when they make their production numbers look "bad" or when OSHA is coming around for their yearly visits. So yes, management has it good (bunch of lazy individuals) who get to enjoy fancy dinners, game tickets and extra luxuries at the expense of those breaking their backs to keep the company running.

December 19 2010 at 5:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Working for a large corporation like Coke is no different than working for other big companies. I have worked for three of the large accounting firms and if you want to be anonymous most of your time there, that's the best place to be. Never saw the same people on the elevator. Rode down with the President one day and didn't even know it. Just glad I didn't say or do anything bad! Big is good as far as benefits are concerned, but small is best if you want to be noticed. And try to be nicer to the lady who wrote this article. She was just telling her story. So you had a bad experience at Coke? Not her problem.

December 19 2010 at 4:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Pam's comment
Diane Petty, BA, LLB

Thanks pj512! You are correct; working for a large company has benefits and drawbacks. Some people leaving comments here assume I must be a spoiled, lazy brat because I left such a "great" job. As the article says, I was let go / downsized out with 1000 other sales reps. This was a good thing because Coca-Cola was not a great fit for me, but it was hard to leave with all of the great perks and benefits. They made the decision for me. You seem to understand the whole point of the article... the corporate "game" of appearances and office politics is simply not a good fit for some people. There is no right or wrong here, just what is right for the individual. Thanks for the comment and Merry Christmas! Diane

December 21 2010 at 12:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks Diane. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas too. Nobody really should be blamed for leaving a "good" job. We all change and what was once a good fit will not always be a good fit. I'm just fascinated with people who can stay at the same job for 20 or 30 years. My parents did, but that was just the way that generation did things. It was hard to be fired or laid off in their time. Now, if you just look at your boss funny, you'll be out the door. I admire people who can give up good things for the sake of their sanity. Life is too short to spend it doing something you hate.

December 21 2010 at 5:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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