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Coca-Cola’s Staffing Philosophy Supports Its Global Strategy

By Dawn Anfuso

Nov. 1, 1994

The Coca-Cola Co. sees itself not as a global organization, but as a multi-local enterprise. That’s because its global strategy is to allow its businesses in more than 200 countries to act according to local needs, local laws and local cultures.


For this reason, the Atlanta-based soft-drink giant’s philosophy toward staffing is to employ as many nationals in its international businesses as possible. “We strive to have a limited number of international people [in the field] because generally local people are better equipped to do business at their home locations,” explains Jeff Peeters, currently director of HR for corporate finance and human resources in Atlanta, previously HR director for Coca-Cola’s Northwest European division.


However, there’s still a need for expatriates in the system for two main reasons. One is to fill a need for a specific set of skills that may not exist at a particular location. For example, when Coca-Cola started up operations in an Eastern European country, it had to bring in an expatriate from Chicago—who is of Polish decent—to fill the position of finance manager.


The second reason that the company will relocate workers to foreign locales is for the employee’s own development. “Before you take on serious senior managerial responsibility in the company, you should have had an international exposure,” Peeters says.


Coca-Cola associates do that by being part of the company’s global service program, a system that focuses on the development of a core group of workers for international mobility (see, “The Philosophy Behind Coca-Cola’s International Service Program,” this page). Currently, approximately 500 high-level professionals and managers are part of the program. Says Michael J. Semrau, assistant vice president and director for international HR: “The cost of the program is significant, so we tend to focus on people who have knowledge of their particular field plus knowledge of the company, and who can do two things in an international location. One is add value by the expertise that they bring to each assignment and two is enhance their contribution to the company by having that international experience.”


Of the 500 people in the program, approximately 200 move each year. The typical duration of an international as-signment is three to five years, although that can vary based on need.


The workers in this program are supported by an international service program group that manages their compensation. The specialists in this group have responsibility for one of five international groups. They work with local division HR people or regional HR people to coordinate the transfer of the international service people and to ensure that the appropriate compensation elements are in place and provided on a timely basis.


“We try to set up our compensation programs so that we can transfer talent around the world without having significant compensation barriers for international service employees,” says Carl Presley, director of compensation. The company has done this by giving the international service workers a U.S.-based compensation package. In other words, they’re paid according to U.S. benchmarks rather than changing salaries for each move they make.


The workers pay hypothetical income taxes based on a calculation of what they’d pay if they were working in the United States. The company, then, pays their foreign taxes, taking any tax credits that the employee may get. “Many of the elements are the same so that there isn’t preferential treatment for going into one part of the world for international service vs. another,” Presley says.


The international workers’ compensation packages also include such compensation-related benefits as housing allowances, cost-of-living differentials and education costs. If an expat is in a particularly difficult area, he or she might receive an environmental allowance that recognizes the difficulties of that location. And expats in the program may receive home leave, which allows them to return home if they choose to for a certain period of time to renew their ties with their homeland.


To further ensure equity within the international ranks, the company also has a worldwide job evaluation system. The program evaluates the same positions in different parts of the world on the same internal value.


Personnel Journal, November 1994, Vol. 73, No.11, p.116.


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