Joining the Coca-Cola Company at the age of 19, Stephen Lusk has spent over twenty-six years learning the ins and outs of the beverage business. Beginning his journey with a temporary contract in 1989, Stephen has since occupied various leadership roles across many markets in Europe and Asia. He has worked in Ireland, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, before moving to Asia to take on his current position. He is now settled in as the CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, Bottling Investments Group Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Stephen’s comprehensive background and experience has benefited the company tremendously in terms of improving upon its operational efficiencies, competencies, and culture. A crucial aspect that allows Coca-Cola to reach new heights is its cultivation of an open and accessible environment for its customers and employees, this is projected via its leaders, from the top down. “When you take on a leadership position, everyone looks to you — everyone looks for the tone at the top: the vision you set, the way you run the business, how you operate under pressure, and how you motivate and inspire your people,” he says. “Culture becomes a critical success factor, and if I look at how we lead the culture, the focus is an openness to the organisation and people, developing and challenging our employees, listening, and recognising success.”
Learn to have a plan ‘B’
For Stephen, success is a result of a positive mentality, and his determination when it comes to achieving goals and overcoming obstacles. “It is important that you are always open to change,” he says. “Everything that you plan to happen will not happen, and you have to learn to have a plan ‘B’, and ultimately not be surprised by change.”
As Stephen notes, the culture in this region is one in which people can sometimes be less willing to take chances. “Especially in this part of the world, it’s important to allow people to take risks and make mistakes without making them pay for it,” he says. “It’s about getting people to have fun and look at themselves in the mirror, like I do, and say, ‘This is a great place to work’. Inspiring people to give their best, enjoy what they do, and feel like this is somewhere they want to work is an important culture you want to set for your organisation.”
80 years in Malaysia and Singapore
As Coca-Cola celebrates its eightieth year of operations in Malaysia and Singapore, it is clear that this outlook has propelled the company towards success. In a region where half of the population is under 30 years old, Coca-Cola thrives because of its diverse mix of employees, and the strength of its brands, which allow the company to focus on its customers’ needs.
Everything that you plan to happen will not happen, and you have to learn to have a plan ‘B’ and ultimately not be surprised by change.
“I think what sets us apart from the competition is our focus on the customer and the marketplace. As the CEO, I spend a minimum of three days a week out of the office with our customers and our teams, meeting people and walking the streets to find out what is going on, who our competition is, and how we are doing,” he says. “The average consumer needs approximately one and a half litres of liquid per day, and we want to ensure consumers are given the opportunity to choose one of our brands. That is what sets us apart — having that winning mentality in the market.”
The next 80 years
According to Stephen, the future is all about growth. “We have a set vision to double the size of the business and its revenue globally. We continue to invest heavily in the region, in innovation, and in improving our service to win with customers.” he says. “It’s about capturing the opportunity for growth across categories. The non-alcoholic, ready-to-drink beverage business is going to continue to grow in South East Asia, and being successful with our local stakeholders, our government, communities, and the people we serve, is what we are going to be about. That will enable us to succeed in this part of the world. We are building capabilities from the last eighty years, for the next eighty years.”