It’s bright and early on a Friday and I’m sitting in a McDonald’s parking lot in Hamilton, nursing a coffee and a hash brown.  Though I’m used to early mornings, they are normally spent sitting on a train as I’m slowly bringing my brain up to speed for the day ahead. Today however I am skipping my usual routine of going into the office.  Instead, I am taking part in a unique opportunity Coca-Cola offers associates known as a “Shoulder2Shoulder”.  Here associates are given the opportunity to shadow a fellow Coca-Cola colleague who works in a completely different line of business. This allows members of the Coca-Cola family to see first-hand how the Company operates in a well-rounded way, particularly for those who do not work in market directly with customers. From everyone I’ve talked to, the experience leaves a lasting impression and often changes the way they perceive the business.

Ian McDaniel is the man I’ll be shadowing for the day.  He is an Account Representative and to be completely honest, I have no idea what to expect.  He arrives, we jump in his Toyota Prius, head off to our first call, and it is immediately clear that I am in experienced hands.  Ian has been working for Coca-Cola for over 20 years and quickly discovered that what he truly loves is one-on-one interaction with customers.  Walking in Ian’s shoes for just one day and it is hard to find fault with his choice, he enjoys a tremendous amount of freedom sitting behind the wheel all-day instead of behind a desk. Additionally, Ian’s position requires him to build strong and lasting relationships with his customers, some he’s had for over a decade. Ian knows the names of family members and is genuinely interested when he asks one convenience store manager how his recently married son is doing. Most of his business is with small stores like this, often family run, and so building this rapport is essential.

The nature of Ian’s job is also different from what I expected. Once I heard “sales” mentioned, my mind was awash with scenes of pushy salesmen trying desperately to make their numbers. Fortunately this is not the case with Ian, in fact in many ways he is a partner to these small store managers, advising them on what they have and what they are likely to sell based on past sales figures. During our visit there is an ongoing promotion and, where he feels opportunities are being missed, Ian offers suggestions on how stores might maximize the potential of the offer which suits these small business owners just fine. Ian’s experience is on full display when visiting with accounts, he is always careful to listen to what the staff has to say and find out what is going on at the location. During a visit to a long-time customer, Ian learns from the owner that they are planning a big BBQ party to celebrate 50 years in business. Before I blink Ian is already excitedly congratulating the man and offering product and merchandise as giveaways for the event. It is clear from the interaction that this is a relationship both Ian and the owner value highly.

It is obvious from my day with Ian that he cares deeply about what he does and that he does it well. He is always mindful of his customers’ needs, often aware of them before they are. Determined to provide the highest quality service he can, Ian will gladly adapt his schedule to best meet the needs of his customers. Seeing Ian’s dedication to engaging with customers in the hearts of the communities we serve has, as promised, absolutely left a lasting impression on me. My Shoulder 2 Shoulder experience that day taught me a valuable lesson about The Coca-Cola Company as a whole. While it may be a vast global system, it is the local, community relationships that are essential to Coca-Cola’s continued success. Without the passion of Account Representatives like Ian, it would be impossible for Coca-Cola to make those everyday moments more special.