The Coca-Cola Company Silicon Valley Lead, External Technology Acquisition
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How did you get to where you are today? What is your story? What incidents and experiences shaped your career path?

Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
I don't really have a linear career path. I've been generally in the Food and Agtech world here in Silicon Valley for the past decade. I fell backward into where I am today. Fresh out of college I actually pursued the policy track. I spent the first couple of years out of college in Washington DC doing various kinds of policy work on Capitol Hill and a couple of think tanks. Then came back here to San Francisco to work for a nonprofit after spending some time in Washington DC. At that time I was roommates with a guy who was a startup founder. The whole startup venture world at that time was totally new to me. I didn't know about it but I would interact with my roommate quite a bit and kind of fell in love with that whole scene. It was creative, It was technical and it was scrapping. There was a lot of inertia behind what I thought I wanted to do, which was still the policy world during that time. I went back to graduate school, back in Washington DC in international relations and economics. That was a good experience from the perspective of figuring out what you don't want to do. The second timer from DC I figured out pretty quickly that the policy world doesn't really fit very well for me. Concurrent to my graduate studies, I started working part-time with a large Japanese trading firm. Their office was in Washington, the head of that office at the time was a really great guy. He became a mentor and he knew that my heart was not in the work that they were doing in Washington. So he said, why don't we set you up in our Silicon Valley office? so I transitioned from there. I graduated from grad school to a position in the same firm here in Silicon Valley and that firm it's Mitsubishi Corporation, the largest trading firm in Japan. They have holdings operations across basically every vertical you can think of my policy background. I was very attracted to big impact legacy industries where there was a lot of room for innovation, disruption, and you could have a maximum impact on society. I naturally gravitated to the business group within that firm that handled all of the well vertically integrated. Everything from production agriculture down to retail that whole value change and through that started networking heavily the venture ecosystem. I met some folks who eventually became colleagues, co-founders of mine first helped to find an organization called the Mixing bowl. If folks are familiar with startup grind basically a platform to connect innovators in food and ag-tech. 

What are the responsibilities and decisions that you handle at work? Discuss weekly hours you spend in the office, for work travel, and working from home.

Based on experience at: Silicon Valley Lead, External Technology Acquisition, The Coca-Cola Company
Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
At Coke we have a few big bucket strategic interest areas in the organization and within each big bucket area, what we're trying to do is source external innovations to solve those challenge areas. I spent a lot of time running around with venture capitalists and start-ups in the area within those categories trying to find solutions. Then on the Coke side connecting those into our business units and other teams with the PMO's to actually bring those things to market. It's a lot of tech scouting, soursing and then building the business logic around primarily the structure of pilots and proofs of concept experiments and co-development agreements. I spent the greater part of last year building little accelerator for the company I run that now as well. Weekly hours vary greatly and I actually worked remotely. Coca Cola is headquartered in Atlanta. I'm based here in Silicon Valley. The rest of my team is in Atlanta having said that we're a global team. So I also have colleagues that I worked with across Europe and Singapore, Shanghai, Mexico, Australia and Japan. Most of my travel is based on that.

How do you evaluate companies and what methods do you use? How much weight do you give to various information sources and signals in your company valuation?

Based on experience at: Silicon Valley Lead, External Technology Acquisition, The Coca-Cola Company
Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
Our evaluation is based on who is catching the ball, so the personalities and politics of different business units and different geography is within the organization is often very different. But it's actually what my team is mainly responsible for is kind of checking the box on technical validation. Um, so we need to make sure that all the companies that I interact with are something that is not going to be dangerous or the science is legit. Um, you know, the claims that companies make are valid. That's why we structure these pilots. A lot of the information and data that I deal with initially comes from my personal network. So based on the strength of the investor's replication of the investors, companies that are in their portfolio. I work with a few VC's very closely and really value their input. Beyond that top of the other stuff we use the insides crunch base. It's really a human-driven process. 

What tools (software programs, models, algorithms) do you use at work? Do you prefer certain tools more than the others? Why?

Based on experience at: Silicon Valley Lead, External Technology Acquisition, The Coca-Cola Company
Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
I don't use too many sophisticated tools. I use Microsoft programs and some of the tools they have like, Microsoft teams and yammer for communication. We don't use any algorithms or anything like that. Besides what's embedded on backend of platforms like CB insights and things like that. I personally use Slack quite a bit. There are some CRM tools I used to help organize our pipeline. That's all nothing too sophisticated. 

What things do you like about your job? Were there any pleasant surprises?

Based on experience at: Silicon Valley Lead, External Technology Acquisition, The Coca-Cola Company
Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
Coca Cola is a huge global organization, its a beverage company but it basically touches every facet of the consumer experience. There's a lot of divisions within Coke that I get to work with on an innovation level. There is a lot of sports marketing in foodservice. Anything about Coca Cola here in North America is 80% of foodservice. We are very heavily involved in creating value out of business solutions for our foodservice partners. There's restaurants, hotels, casinos, sports, universities, museums, amusement parks and other kinds of things. There's a lot of fun stuff that happens there up and down the value chain, everything from the user experience, at site and facility down to looking at a lot of stuff in the evolving space of delivery, and self-driving and how that's affecting that. Coke is also a very diverse organization. Being a global organization, I get to work with teams from all over the world and every geography, every culture has a different way of approaching problems and thinking about things that are going to navigate that and figure out what works best in different geographies. I've actually only been with coke for about two years, but today I've worked on projects with folks from Latin America, from Western Europe, from Eastern Europe, from West Africa, from Australia, from Japan, from Shanghai. I've worked globally so it is fun. 

What are the job titles of people you routinely work with inside and outside of your organization? What approaches do you find to be effective in working with them?

Based on experience at: Silicon Valley Lead, External Technology Acquisition, The Coca-Cola Company
Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
Outside of the organization the job titles are pretty straightforward. It's usually the founder and CEO. I'm working with a lot of early-stage startups. Beyond that, you are working with a lot of partners at firms and a lot of managers and accelerators, educators, incubators things like that. Inside the organization we ultimately report to our chief innovation officer. Below that you have directors, different kinds of functional areas. Then beyond that, we work a lot with our head of M and A. We work with our Ventures and Emerging Brands unit. We work with the VP of Global Ventures and then our chief technology officer and her office. So it is pretty diverse now. 

What major challenges do you face in your job and how do you handle them? Can you discuss a few accomplishments?

Based on experience at: Silicon Valley Lead, External Technology Acquisition, The Coca-Cola Company
Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
The biggest challenge with my role is we are a cost center, we don't own a business line ourselves. So we're always trying to sell innovation into business groups or business units that add targets that they have to hit. Even though in the long term it would be very beneficial. In the short term it creates incremental work for them, so it's a challenge to try and sell essentially new work for people do so it's a big challenge. I think my best accomplishment in that regard as far as the creation of the acceleration program I built. What I found is if you create the environment and make innovation something exciting, something tangible. Folks are more apt to participate effectively and that's what we did with the acceleration program. It's a challenge-based accelerator. We solicit challenges from different teams in the organization and meet those with external innovations startups. Then they work collaboratively together face to face which makes the process a lot easier when you can actually touch, see and feel what you're trying to implement rather than having a very academic process.

What qualities does your team look for while hiring? What kind of questions does your team typically ask from candidates?

Based on experience at: Silicon Valley Lead, External Technology Acquisition, The Coca-Cola Company
Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
I'm a unique fit on my team. Me along with my team members sit in our global R&D unit. Most of the rest of the global and our technical people have PhDs and they like biology or chemistry or stuff like that. I am not a technical person by background, I am more of a hand waver conceptual guy. The main criteria that Coca Cola as a company is looking for are some behaviors that we look for. I think the most important one for us is to be innovative and curious. Never just accept the status role for what it is. Being innovative means that job is never done you're constantly living in beta so to speak like everything is evolving. Being comfortable with the environment, a more stochastic environment than a strictly linear, deterministic thing. In terms of questions that are typically asked really depends on the role. There's a heavy emphasis within our group on technical capacity. I think like most companies, ultimately the difference between a successful candidate and a non-successful candidate will be a cultural fit. Generally speaking within our group each team is relatively small and so you really have cohesion within each team. I would say that the most important thing is that end of the day everything still remains human. We can automate the crap out of every process that we engage in but at the end of the day, it's all about relationships and human touch. 

What is a typical hiring process for a job like yours? What are the titles of people who interview? What questions usually get asked and how to handle them?

Based on experience at: Silicon Valley Lead, External Technology Acquisition, The Coca-Cola Company
Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
The typical hiring process includes usually several rounds, meeting and hiring committee that does the final hiring and that will be comprised of your direct reporting manager and someone that they choose from the senior level of the company, the senior director level, the head of the whole functional unit and that ranges the titles like VP down to director of some function. The questions that usually get asked, it's generally about the general technical skills and then a lot on these growth behaviors.  

What are different entry-level jobs and subsequent job pathways that can lead students to a position such as yours?

Based on experience at: Silicon Valley Lead, External Technology Acquisition, The Coca-Cola Company
Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
This one is kind of hard for me to answer because I've had such kind of a securest route to me. 2. Previous to Coke I was a founder of a startup and previous to that, I was a founder of another startup and previous to that I was in a corporate venture, Corp Dev roll and then previous to that, I was working for a non-profit. I think that the most important thing for students to understand is don't be linear about your approach to career, find something that you’re very passionate about and that doesn’t have to be a specific industry. It doesn't have to be a specific job function, just find what drives you and let that guide what you do and don't give up. No matter what path you choose, you're going to run into adversity, you’re going to have a failure and the key is to just don't give a crap. Just keep pushing ahead and keep moving with the vision that you have for where you want to end up. This is going to sound terrible, I think most people when they enter a new situation they look around them and they think I won't be able to measure up after trying what that new thing is for a little bit. They realize everybody around them is actually stupid so the point is, don't be intimidated by people. Just have a clear idea of where you want to end up. That doesn't necessarily have to be a linear thing but hold on to your vision. Don't listen to the doubters. The other thing I'd say about that is I had a professor in college who had very wise words he said it doesn't matter what you do, it matters more who you do it with and I definitely found that to be true because I have pursued certain things over the course of the last 15 years of my career, I thought what I was doing was really awesome but the people I was doing it were awful and it ruined what I was doing so find the right people to work but that doesn't mean to be discriminatory or anything. It's just to say find your people and you will be way more successful if you can find your people than if you can find the thing that you want to do. I have so many friends who went into finance and half of them hate their lives because everybody around them is a complete douche bag. It ruins everything. They make a lot of money but they're miserable so what's the trade-off there. Find people, find the environment that allows you to thrive and then push forward with your vision through that and if you do that, I think your odds of being successful whatever that means to you personally go way up. 

How did the school prepare you for your career? Think about faculty, resources, alumni, exposure & networking. What were the best parts?

Based on experience at: MA, International Relations and Economics, The Johns Hopkins University - Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
I had an idea going into the grad school of what I wanted to do and it just changed dramatically. So to be honest with you, I do not really use my degree at all. Do I have regrets about that? No, not really, I think whatever prepared school might have had for me was taught me how to think or put me in uncomfortable situations and let me problem solve within those. Unless, you're going into a very strict R&D or academic field, most of what you do and how you grow in your career is a vocational thing, you learn the skills on the job. I think the most important thing going into it is you're just willing to show up and work really hard. What I found is in my own years, I've looked at other people the most successful people I've been around have not always been the smartest. They have not always been the best looking, but more or less, they've been the hardest working so I think that's the most important thing and my bachelor's degree was in Asian stuff has nothing to do with anything I'm doing right now. So I think the most important thing is to develop that vision and just work your hardest at it. 

Would you like to share something that is not on your resume? This may include your passions, facing setbacks or adversities, a unique experience, or an unexpected help.

Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
I have always been a creative person so I grew up playing music. I played in bands for years and years and years, did the whole thing, played in a lot of smoky, dark clubs and released records and sold them at merch tables at indie rock shows and stuff like this. I've dabbled in film and also other creative pursuits and that's really guided. That's been part of my own personal vision that I have to create, I have to build stuff and that means many different things in different contexts but that's been the overall driving force and everything. I have to create and so that kind of background in creative fields has really kind of driven that inside of me. The moment I see diminishing returns on my ability to create within any given role, my eyes start opening wider and I start looking around because I need to make stuff.  

Do you have any parting advice for students hoping to get to a position such as yours? What 3 dos and 3 don'ts would you suggest?

Based on experience at: Silicon Valley Lead, External Technology Acquisition, The Coca-Cola Company
Summarized By: arushi chaudhary on Fri Mar 06 2020
I would just drive home that notion again of try your best to be who you are. I've been in many different interviewing situations and even jobs where every day I've felt the need to conform myself to the people around me, the system around me, and the result was really awkward to contrive and fake and to the extent that you can, try to figure who you are in a professional setting and just be that person. If it doesn't work in a current role, that's probably a good thing because you would probably be miserable for however long you stay in that role. So really be honest with yourself as to who you are and that's not to say there is a certain amount of conformity that is required for performance in any job because at the end of the day, a job is a job but within reason, allow yourself to just be who you are and let that guide where you end up right so that would kind of encapsulate those three dos and three don’ts. Be who you are and don't be who you're not because the results for that effort, the ladder of trying to be someone that you're not always come across really bad. It never works out.