The young woman at the forefront of the Coca-Cola bottler’s strategies
Set against every possible criterion, overseeing the long-term vision of a beverage giant whose footprint spans the entire country is a career-defining accomplishment. For Andrea Cheng—Strategic Planning Director of Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, Inc., the youngest member of its senior leadership team—the sprawling scope of her work is just par for the course; handling the strategic solutions for a company that serves millions of Filipinos just a-day-in-the-life.
As the local bottler for a multinational corporation, CCBPI operates 20 manufacturing sites and over 70 distribution centers, and employs some 10,000 people all over the Philippines. It has a vast network of stakeholders, ranging from consumers to government entities, from beneficiary communities to owners of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and big corporate clients.
It’s extensive and intensive work, being in charge of both responses to immediate corporate concerns and keeping sight of a company’s operational goals—foremost among them is further, continuous growth. Andrea points out that her team at Strategy helps ensure that the company’s individual components are working in a cohesive and well-orchestrated manner on the one hand and, on the other, makes sure that the business is investing enough resources to continue expanding and serve more people.
“We’re always on the look-out for how we can do things better for our consumers, for our customers, for our associates, and for the company,” says Andrea.
Defining the aspirations of a company and mobilizing resources toward pursuing this blueprint always demand a harmonious play among functional oversight and refinement, networking and coordination, and forward-thinking and ambition.
“There are no dull days,” she admits.
Rewriting the blueprint for growth
Andrea’s current post at CCBPI is in itself a story of growth—and an apt reflection of her own career trajectory within the company, which allowed her to fulfill various roles crucial to help drive the growth strategy of a global beverage brand’s local operations.
Now in her eighth year with the Coca-Cola bottling arm, Andrea has significantly contributed to the company’s milestones like transitions and expansions, and her work—setting down a vision, a plan, and method of realizing those goals—has been helping CCBPI weather one of the biggest challenges it has ever had to face.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impressed upon companies the value of agility and adaptability. And for a company with such a vast presence as Coca-Cola, it’s a balance among continued job preservation, continued operations, and continued outreach. It was imperative that adjustments be made to the company’s working blueprint for growth.
“Today, we find ourselves with the market and shopper landscape having evolved,” Andrea says. “The economic downturn is making affordability critical. And e-commerce is growing at an unprecedented rate.” She cites the increased popularity of multi-serve sharing packs as a concrete example of how the pandemic, the consequent economic outlook, and changes to social habits have affected the company’s portfolio.
Taking risks and being empowered to do so
The pandemic has accelerated certain trends and delayed others—and Andrea and her team have been instrumental in helping the business thrive. The main challenge, she says, was that the role and its scope had to be more fluid to address the new demands of the market. Andrea’s open and honest conversations with the rest of the leadership team has helped her better understand how the Strategy team could deliver greater value.
The result is continued cohesion, and empowerment among the Strategy team members to go forward and hold these important conversations with more people across the organization.
“Our strategy has us pushing the pedal on some initiatives and slowing down the gas for others,” shares Andrea. “The key point is that agility is more important than ever. The world is fast-evolving and the business needs to be able to keep up. Agility is the difference between capturing the opportunity or missing out on it entirely.”
Andrea believes that a sustainable business means its people have the ability to continuously innovate, and that the company ensures that its people development programs equip associates with the skills and resources to do so. At CCBPI, she says the diversity in background and past experiences led to out-of-the-box thinking.
“People are empowered,” Andrea says of the 10,000-strong associates of the bottler. “We have a huge appetite to experiment. We give it a try, learn as we go, tweak, and push forward. This is a company that does not penalize for trying new things. This culture of wanting to try means that you have many great people now actively finding new ways to solve business problems.”
A virtuous cycle of people development
Serving as a valued member of the company’s Senior Leadership Team through both triumphs and trials, Andrea credits CCBPI’s culture of believing, nurturing, and investing in potential. She shares one of the facets of the company’s People-First philosophy, which promotes based on capability, and how she’s doing her part in ensuring that the virtuous cycle of merit and hard work is sustained via nurturing future leaders in the organization.
“I make sure that my door is always open for chats and consultations. Within the company, I actively mentor some young men and women both on hard and soft skills,” she says. “From personal experience, I’ve seen how powerful it is when someone believes in you. I never would have gotten to where I was without many people guiding, helping, and believing in me along the way.”
“My management style is one where I set people up for success,” Andrea adds. “I am exacting when it comes to standards, but I am fair in that the standard is consistent and is communicated upfront. I see the potential in people, and that’s why I chase the standard, I know they will be able to reach it.”
Andrea’s mentorship style allows her colleagues to fulfill their potential as independent drivers, but within a culture that’s confident that support will be provided when needed, and broader mandates will be granted when an associate is ready to take on bigger roles or greater responsibilities. This method works seamlessly with the company’s performance-based system, one that recognizes and promotes good people.
Part of that recognition is ensuring that competent viewpoints are heard and credited, especially from demographics that historically haven’t been imbued with confidence in their own voices. Andrea cites her conversations with the young women she mentors as a collective reminder to be deliberate and to listen to all voices in the room. Any dialogue on women’s empowerment, Andrea points out, urges people to revisit their biases against women’s visibility and a culture where women can assert and maintain their presence.
“If we have a conversation on female leaders, then we need to talk about the female talent pipeline. Part of the reason why there are fewer women in leadership roles is also attributable to the higher fall-out rate,” Andrea explains.
The company culture in CCBPI fosters diversity and inclusion and provides equal opportunity based on skills—the company has policies that make it easier for associates to balance work and family, which Andrea believes is crucial to making the female talent pipeline more and more robust. “If we want to see more women leaders,” Andrea points out, “we need to maintain them and keep them.”
Andrea believes that the best time to start building up more women leaders in different industries is now. For her, the subtext of every mentorship with younger women colleagues is: “Nobody has the right to limit your growth, especially if the reason for the limitation is anchored on gender. If you find yourself in that situation, speak and bring about the change that needs to happen. It is a good fight, and support will come.”
Be brave, Andrea Cheng says. Take it from a strategist.
Read more Business stories:
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.