Toastmaster — November 2012
Change Language:
Mary Nesfield

The Coca-Cola Company lays claim to one of the most recognizable brands on the planet. Its reach boggles the mind. The Coca- Cola drink, which was once available only at a single drugstore in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, is now available in more than 200 countries. The company produces a broad range of beverages, including sodas, juices, coffees, teas and enhanced waters, and it employs more than 146,000 people worldwide.

And, for more than a third of its 126- year history, Coca-Cola has sponsored Toastmasters clubs for employees.

Cultivating Leaders
As with most companies, the growth and continued success of The Coca-Cola Company depends on the interpersonal skills of its associates and the effectiveness of its leaders. Ceree Eberly, CTM, who belonged to the company’s 310 North Toastmasters club in Atlanta, is senior vice president and chief people officer of The Coca-Cola Company. She says, “In my role, I see a great value in Toastmasters International’s proven programs for developing great communicators and influential leaders.”

Sharon Cobey, associate event manager at Coca-Cola and a member of the 310 North Toastmasters, says the benefits of Toastmasters membership extend beyond departmental boundaries. “For example, members of our sales and marketing departments have to make presentations all the time to managers as well as to customers, and the skills they learn in Toastmasters directly transfer to their jobs.”

The company fosters a diverse and inclusive culture, and its two corporate clubs in Atlanta help in that regard as well. With Coca-Cola serving such geographically diverse customers, associates must be familiar with the languages, customs and cultural preferences of consumers in all the foreign markets they serve.

“We have a very diverse group,” Cobey says. “Some associates join [Toastmasters] to build their English-speaking skills, because English is their second language.”

The company culture itself has expanded as associates communicate globally, not only with customers but with each other. From beverage concept and development to merchandising and marketing, associates are challenged to share ideas with co-workers throughout the world—and to share them in new ways. To help achieve that goal, management assigns every employee a formal development plan.

“Many of our employees choose to include the Toastmasters programs as part of their formal development plan,” says Eberly. “For me, that creates real value for our employees and our company.”

Cobey first visited a Toastmasters meeting after being invited by the club’s vice president membership. After experiencing the meeting’s energizing atmosphere, Cobey chose Toastmasters as part of her development plan. Since July 2010, she has attended the 310 North Toastmasters meetings at 7:30 every Thursday morning.

“I have to get up early that day to attend, but I find that it energizes me,” Cobey says. “I haven’t experienced a boring meeting yet!” She now is president of the 40-year-old club, located at Coca-Cola’s corporate headquarters in Atlanta.

Communicating Across the World
Coca-Cola employees are continually tasked with turning corporate plans into action. Cobey describes the challenges of Eberly’s role: “Ceree Eberly started as a Toastmaster. Today, she travels all over the world to communicate with Coca-Cola associates. Her job requires excellent speaking and communication skills, and so the skills she developed in Toastmasters serve her in her work today.”

Internal Control Specialist Don Penovi, CC, joined The Real Thing Toastmasters club in Atlanta in 2009. Three years later, Penovi was transferred to corporate headquarters. He joined the 310 North Toastmasters club to get acclimated to his new work environment.

“I have created relationships through Toastmasters that have helped me tackle my new responsibilities,” says Penovi. “It’s about building relationships, and so much of my job requires that. Toastmasters has also helped with my confidence here at headquarters. I needed a boost and I got it.”

Setting and Achieving Goals
Stephanie Kalman, CC, CL, president of The Real Thing club, is a senior logistics analyst at Coca-Cola Refreshments, the North American division of the company. She is responsible for performing supply chain modeling to evaluate long-term infrastructure planning projects for North America.

From her Toastmasters involvement, Kalman says, “I have learned time-management skills, which are critical to balancing my professional responsibilities and personal goals.” She adds that Table Topics has helped her develop the skills and confidence to field questions from management while delivering presentations.

Maria Higgins, ACB, vice president public relations of The Real Thing Toastmasters, became a professional speaker during a break in employment at Coca-Cola. For two years she spoke to clients about how to overcome fears while “gracefully handling change.”

Since being rehired as an information technology capability lead at Coca-Cola Refreshments, Higgins has participated in training and change management for the company. Although her role as a speaker has diminished, Higgins says, “Toastmasters gives me the opportunity to maintain my speaking abilities.”

Spreading the Word
In a company with such a wide reach, you might think club sponsorship could sometimes fall through the cracks. But Cobey assures this isn’t the case. “[The company’s] online ‘Morning Message’ provides a list of the activities of the day, and our club meeting announcement is periodically included in that message,” she says. “We also have recruitment drives, and we include our recruitment flier in our new hire orientation packets,” she says.

Cobey cites another example of how members get the word out: “Our club treasurer works in the finance department, and one day he had a meeting with the company’s chief financial officer. Our treasurer was wearing his Toastmasters pin and the CFO asked for a synopsis of the club experience. [Our treasurer] later told us how the experience was similar to giving a Table Topics speech.

“The key to the success of the club is in getting the word out, and we are committed to this process,” Cobey says. “As a matter of fact, Coca-Cola’s vice president of marketing is scheduled to be a guest speaker at a club meeting this month, and we are planning a membership drive to promote his speech, as well as to draw new members.”

A Formula for Success
This past spring, District 14 presented The Coca-Cola Company with an award for its sponsorship of Toastmasters clubs. The recognition came as club members celebrated the 40-year anniversary of 310 North Toastmasters and as other members celebrated the 10-year anniversary of The Real Thing club.

Kene Iloenyosi, DTM, past District 14 governor and a member of two clubs in the district, cites the reasons for the honor. “The Coca-Cola Company shows its support for Toastmasters clubs not just by paying members’ dues, but by giving clubs a budget for [hosting] special events,” he says.

“Through its clubs, the company has sponsored several district conferences, and has produced a number of district leaders who also have been supported by the company.”

The success of The Coca-Cola Company cannot be denied, nor can the success of its Toastmasters members.