Dec 2019 Interview with Ms. Sissy Iliopoulou, Public Affairs, Communications & Sustainability Manager, Coca-Cola Hellas
Prisma Reports: Coca-Cola Hellas, Greece’s leading soft drinks company, celebrated its 50 years anniversary since the first Coca-Cola bottle was produced in Greece. To start this interview, can you give us a little tour of Coca Cola in Greece, and some facts and figures to illustrate the importance of the company today?
Sissy Iliopoulou: Coca-Cola celebrated in 2019 its 50th anniversary in Greece, along with our bottling partner Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (CCHBC). Throughout these years, we have created together value for the country, for our partners, clients and of course for our people. Today, together with CCHBC in Greece, we employ more than 1,800 people in Greece – 43.7% of employment in beverage industry – but there is also a multiplier effect, since, for every direct job, another 12 ones are supported in the Greek market through our operation.
Our overall contribution to the Greek economy is estimated at €2 billion or 1.1% of GDP in 2018. For every €1 of our value-added, another €11 are generated overall in the Greek economy.
From a portfolio perspective, we offer a wide variety of different products to address the needs of Greeks, and our vision is to even expand further our portfolio so as to satisfy every wish, taste and moment of the day. Today, our products are available at 113,654 points of sale, supported by the largest sales force in the Greek market.
At an overarching level, our aim is to always be a great partner for the society, as well as institutions, so that we can play our part in the progress of the society per se and our country and of course, the stability of the planet.
It is also very important for us to share the global context via our operations, aiming to render it relevant and useful for Greece, as well as in every country we operate in.
Prisma Reports: What would be some of your proudest moments, or biggest milestones and achievements over these past 50 years?
Sissy Iliopoulou: There have been many.
Operations-wise, there were very successful launches, like Coca-Cola Zero back in 2007, and Coca-Cola Stevia in 2017. In the last couple of years, we have introduced many innovations in the Greek market. For example, Fuzetea, the ready-to-drink ice tea brand, a delicious blend of juice and tea extracts, which reflects our evolving strategy to become a Total Beverage Company with a broadened portfolio that goes beyond Coca-Cola. Always close to the taste and preferences of Greeks we develop local recipes for our products available only in Greece and inspired by Greece, such as Schweppes Soda Mastic Mint.
Coca-Cola being one of the official sponsors of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, was a significant milestone in our history and in our country’s history. It’s very nice to be part of this moment of pride and showcase to the world that Greece can make things happen if there is a vision that unites everyone.
We are also very proud of our new social platform called Zero Waste Future, established in the last couple of years. It consists of a series of activities aiming to educate citizens about the prevention, management and reuse of waste by adopting the principles of the circular economy and recycling. Waste can thus have a second and third life and can create shared growth opportunities for a better future. We are adopting the principles of the circular economy today, to create a better world for tomorrow.
Prisma Reports: Going forward, what’s your outlook for 2020? How and where will the company be seeking its growth next year? Which segments or activities are most interesting for you at present?
Sissy Iliopoulou: At a business level, we want to continue expanding our portfolio and offer consumers choices based on their evolving preferences and needs. Nevertheless, what is also a top objective for us is to safeguard the environment for the future generations. We are going to focus on waste, as well as on our sustainability agenda, and on increasing our social impact in Greece. Our vision is to enrich the total experience that we provide to the consumer.
We also want to introduce the circular economy to the Greek market in an open and inclusive manner. It is of the utmost importance to popularize concepts like this – we try to do it through our platforms to educate people, ignite their interest so that we have another way to make products and consume them as a society. For example, empty bottles are not waste but have value and we can give them a second life. We are also piloting new methods in infrastructure and processes which we apply to collection and recycling schemes, to make them more efficient.
Along with our bottler, we also have a platform for the youth where we provide young people with the skills that they need to be employable. As Coca-Cola, we are one of the founding members of the Regeneration programme. It is the country’s biggest programme of paid employment and professional and personal development and was created to help combat youth unemployment and brain drain, as well as to bridge the gap between young graduates and the market. In 2020, we also want to enhance our platform for women. We want to equip women with new skills that are necessary to face challenges in their careers, in the next decade and in the new economy, such as new skills that involve the digital space and new forms of economies like the circular economy.
We also want to be a part of the dialogue in Greece about its next level and growth opportunities that are there. We strongly believe in Greece and our common future ought not be left up for grabs. Our next 50 years here we want them to be in a country that fulfils its best potential. We believe that we can be a positive contributor by leveraging our global knowledge, system and network. We can also act as a thought leader and inspire or collaborate with the Greek stakeholders, being part of the journey that Greece is embarking on, so we can co-author the next chapter for the country. We want to be part of it. We believe in the power of co-creation and collaboration. No one can do things alone; it is as simple as that. The challenges are many and can only be turned into opportunities if we work together, united, purposefully.
Prisma Reports: One of the topics that kept coming up in interviews is the lack of coordination between the private sectors and universities in Greece. How is Coca Cola working to craft a deeper collaboration with universities and innovation incubators, to support entrepreneurship, talent development and innovation?
Sissy Iliopoulou: Our bottler has a management traineeship where they scout talent from universities and give them the chance to enter the market to have a thorough view of how corporations operate. These programs aim at being the mediator between universities and the private sector. We also have plans to organize a hackathon in universities next year to nurture the social innovation and entrepreneurship mindset and demonstrate how universities can become incubators in collaboration with the private sector. In this case, we can incubate some ideas and leverage them to strengthen our social footprint through the platforms we have in place.
We’re also trying to be part of events that universities organize in order to bridge the gap between academic education and employment by participating in conferences or initiatives by universities. I believe that there is a need for more coordinated organisation at all levels to connect education with the needs of the market so that the youth have a better view of what skills and competencies are sought out by businesses in the private sector, to be able to make informed decisions on the professional paths they wish to pursue, and thus approach their studies accordingly.
Prisma Reports: As a company at the forefront of the Greek economy and that is such a big contributor to the GDP, to what extent do you think Coca Cola Hellas can help slow down or help reverse Greece’s brain drain?
Sissy Iliopoulou: All these initiatives can help stop the brain drain because if young people feel empowered, are equipped with new skills, and can see that there are companies which believe in Greece and design their future plans around Greece, they will stay.
I also think that this effort, which is being put in collectively by the government, corporations, universities and institutions, shows that Greece can be a protagonist in the next decade because there are so many natural resources in Greece with talented people here that can change the country. If young talent sees that Greece has a plan for the next decade, there will be inclination to stay and create here.
Prisma Reports: To what extent are you also not only implementing best practices, but also sharing best practices around you to educate not only your employees, but other firms in other economic sector? What kind of educational programs does Coca Cola drive?
Sissy Iliopoulou: Conferences are great opportunities to share best practices and find synergies with other partners. Digitally, there are also platforms which carry out these initiatives. Our bottler issues an annual sustainability report where we share our progress and the practices we apply in Greece towards sustainability. We are also trying to be active in the public dialogue in different areas like inclusiveness, sustainability, or the circular economy which is an opportunity to listen to others and share practices.
Prisma Reports: Greece has been turning a new page of its history this year with the election of a new Government, but also with the exit of the bailout program last year, but also growth that is back at a level of 2%, agency credit ratings which are viewing the country in a more favourable light and so on. As a company at the forefront of Greece’s economy, what are the challenges and opportunities for businesses? What kind of changes or reforms would be most needed?
Sissy Iliopoulou: We need more stability: in the tax system, in the investment system and model, and the state’s view on important areas like education, financial policies and foreign policies. What we are missing at the moment is a clear North Star that everyone can follow. We are trying to find it, but I think it will help a lot if we had that North Star of how we envision Greece by the end of the next decade.
We need a clear model that would encourage progress in the most important areas, that are highly corelated with the Greek economy’s progress. For example, circular economy is a big opportunity for Greece taking into consideration the resources and the human capital that Greece currently has. Its geographic position and the whole concept of sustainability is a great opportunity for Greece. Tourism is another opportunity.
Greece can diversify in terms of offering as well as achieve great quality. We have very strong qualitative advantages which we can leverage and become the epicentre in certain segments. such as circular economy, energy, tourism, food and beverage and education. We have great minds in Greece that we can use.
Prisma Reports: What is your final message to the readers?
Sissy Iliopoulou: It is a time of purposeful growth – this is what we try to achieve as a company. It’s a time to collaborate, to create shared value and be united towards one purpose and vision: to ensure that our planet will maintain its resources, that our society is inclusive and that gaps are eliminated as we move forward.
I think this mindset of purposeful growth can also provide the missing North Star for Greece. A new growth model that ensures opportunities for people and allows collaboration for new ways to think.