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Atul Singh: Coca-Cola's sunshine man

Last updated on: June 21, 2013 15:28 IST

Atul Singh: Coca-Cola's sunshine man

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India and China may share the same geography, but they are poles apart. 

Based on a survey undertaken by Coca-Coal in 2006, Atul Singh, the then president and chief executive of Coke's India operations, had said that the youth in India are sure about their individual goals but they are not so sure of their country's ambitions.

In contrast, Chinese teenagers want their country to do well, but when it comes to their own aspirations, they draw a blank. 

Singh, who has had a 10-year stint in China, also added that Chinese people like to work as a team, while Indians prefer to work alo#8800 they are also too proud to admit when they are wrong.

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Image: Atul Singh.
Photographs: Courtesy, Coca-Cola

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Seven years later, Singh will have to contend with these differences in the two countries so that he can sell more cola for his company.

This week, he was elevated as the deputy president of Coca-Cola's Pacific Group, making him in charge of two of the world's largest soft-drink maker's most important businesses - China (number three for Coke in terms of volumes) and India (seventh), besides South West Asia. 

He will be responsible for 10 of the 38 countries in the Pacific region, the two big markets of which (India and China) make up for over 10 per cent of the global volumes for Coca-Cola. Singh will also have a war chest of over $9 billion to invest in India as well as China, the fastest growing markets for the company.

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Image: Atul Singh with Muhtar Kent, Chief Executive Officer, The Coca-Cola Company
Photographs: Courtesy, Coca-Cola

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Atul Singh: Coca-Cola's sunshine man

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When Singh took over from Sanjiv Gupta, who left after differences with the management, as Coca-Cola India's chief executive, there was crisis everywhere - morale was low, attrition rate was 33 per cent, the pesticide controversy had impacted sales, and the Rs 5 bottles were a financial disaster.

Singh started meeting the employees in groups to give them an opportunity to air their grievances, and created teams to resolve the issues. In addition, he brought back several key people who had left Coca-Coal for foreign assignments.

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Image: Atul Singh at a Project Unnati event.
Photographs: Courtesy, Coca-Cola

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He took the pesticide issue head on. He acknowledged that the controversy had changed the way consumers saw Coca-Cola, which was with suspicion and, therefore, merely saying that the accusations were wrong was not sufficient.

He put in place a system to  train retailers and sensitise them on the doubts about the product.

Those who work with him say he is a "consensus builder". Singh says his management style is straight out of the sports arena. He does not believe in being the captain but the coach; an enabler who needs to talk to people frequently.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Coca-Cola.

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But his love for sports is not limited to business alone. The honourary Bengali - he studied in Kolkata's La Martiniere Boys School - is an ardent supporter of Mohun Bagan (the football club).

He is also passionate about cricket star Sourav Ganguly who he thinks was wronged, and his most delightful memories as a boy are of watching the India-Australia match in Eden Gardens in 1969 or the exhibition football match when  Brazillian star Pele came to Kolkata.

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Image: Atul Singh with Sachin Tendulkar.
Photographs: Courtesy, Coca-Cola

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Like a true-blue Bengali, he cannot resist the temptation of having a quick lunch (earlier it was every Saturday when he was free) at his favourite Bengali restaurant, O Kolkata in south Delhi, to savour spicy "kosha mangsho" and "luchi".

Many say that he has been plain lucky to show heady growth for the company. They say the relentless Indian summer has added lustre to his career.

The hot days are good enough to make sure soft drinks sell briskly. Singh laughs it off saying that luck alone wouldn't have ensured 27 consecutive quarters of growth.




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