Do you ever have those happy moments in life when you walk into a situation expecting things to go one way and they end up becoming something else entirely? Well I had that experience recently when I went out to ride on Coca-Cola’s Holiday Truck while it was out delivering a load of toys to donate to the CP24 CHUM Christmas Wish program. I set out that day with the dual task of taking lots of pictures at the donation event as well as interviewing the truck driver. I was going to ask him the usual boilerplate about how he got selected to drive the Holiday Truck and how it compared to his usual duties. What I ended up with was a 10 minute peek into the kind of fascinating stories that can only come from 31 years as a member of the Coca-Cola family.
Norm Klager quickly strikes me as one of those thoughtful and humble people that you just can’t help but want to get to know better. In his more than three decades with Coca-Cola he has worn more hats than most; he has worked in facilities and out on the road, loaded trucks and delivered equipment. If you ask Norm though, driving the Holiday Truck is more than just another feather in his cap, it’s a privilege that he really takes to heart. “I get a lot of joy out of driving this Holiday Truck,” Norm says. “I’m proud to be representing Coca-Cola and being able to help give to kids during the holidays like this really warms my heart.” Norm also seems to get a kick out of the reaction he’s getting in this striking vehicle. “It’s a lot of smiles and waves when I’m out on the road with this truck,” he laughs. “The people I see on the highway seem to love it but I’m just looking to impress my grandkids!”
As we start to discuss his history with Coca-Cola, it quickly becomes clear that you could sum up Norm’s approach in two words: care and pride. Norm got his start in production and as he himself admits he was “pretty green”. In the beginning he loaded pallets of product by hand which he describes as “one of the toughest jobs” he’s ever had. During these early years he also recognized the importance of chatting with the most experienced employees on the floor. “I was grateful for everything I picked up from those guys. I learned so much about the history of Coca-Cola as well as the culture of the company. For those guys quality was number one. If a product came off the line and its label was even slightly off, it didn’t go on the truck.”
It wasn’t until after he transferred over to our facility in Hamilton that he broke into delivery and started driving trucks. “When I started out we pretty much worked hand in hand with the sales team. It used to be that you knew the customers and their orders so well that you could stand in if anyone was ever off sick. Today things are organized a bit differently, your routes vary a lot more so you get to meet a lot more people which I love.” This summer Norm also tried his hand at delivering coolers to customers. “It is a lot of work but you can tell the stores really appreciate it when you arrive and set up their machine for them. If their old machine is broken and you show up to replace it, they treat you like a hero. It’s just a great feeling helping customers out and making their day.”
As the conversation continued, I learned that Norm’s delivery days are largely behind him. Age and the temperamental back that comes with it have made unloading trucks at stores more of a challenge. Even as we discuss automation and how things in the warehouse have changed since he first arrived there in the 80’s, it is apparent that his heart belongs to delivery. “Was delivery your favourite job,” I ask, already knowing the answer. “Oh by far,” Norm replies without missing a beat. “It is such an iconic vehicle and it gives me a lot of pride to be driving for one of the biggest fleets out there.” Even after 31 years Norm still takes a lot of pride in the appearance of the trucks he drives. “If my truck got dirty, I’d clean it up and wash it,” Norm proudly says. “As far as I’m concerned it’s the face of the company, so keeping it clean was always a no-brainer.”
As my afternoon with Norm came to an end, I thought there were no surprises left, but Norm was still busy devising a way to make just a little more holiday magic with the truck. You see Norm’s cousin Jim McArthur is also a Coca-Cola associate who has been with the company for nearly 41 years and helped Norm get his start. It turns out Jim is retiring in the next couple weeks and Norm knows exactly what retirement gift will give him the biggest thrill- a ride in Coca-Cola’s Holiday Truck. The following Monday Jim joined Norm in the cab as they made another delivery of toys, this time as part of CTV’s Toy Mountain Campaign. “I’ve been watching the Toy Mountain drive on television for years,” Jim excitedly explains. “I was so honoured and excited when Norm asked me to come and do this. It’s just so nice to get to give back to the community like this.”
Though Norm expressed how proud he was to work for Coca-Cola, the truth is that Coca-Cola is even more proud to have such incredible individuals as Norm and Jim, serving as the face of the company in communities across Canada.