The Coca-Cola Company recently gained 74 new employees... all in one day.

How? On June 2, 74 high school students from 54 high schools and 41 cities across Georgia arrived at Emory University in Atlanta, ready to participate in the 21st Century Leaders’ Summer Youth Leadership Institute. The goal of the 21st Century Leaders’ week-long program is for Georgia high school students to experience hands-on training with business leaders in order to connect, transform and inspire them to become the next generation of leaders.

“Coca-Cola values leadership,” said Bob Watson, executive director of 21st Century Leaders. “Not all businesses choose to work with high school students, and the company’s involvement demonstrates a very real vision for the future.”

21st Century Leaders

The Legal Division of Coca-Cola put leadership into action as they teamed up with 21st Century Leaders to empower high school students and encourage youth leadership by planning a fun-filled agenda, where these students instantly became Coca-Cola associates for the day. The Legal Division invited a few internal Coca-Cola partners from many different areas to join in by volunteering to teach, mentor and connect with the students. Dara Redler, Coca-Cola vice president and senior managing counsel, gave participants three goals for the day: to “learn, experience and connect.”  She set the motivating tone for the program, as students were introduced to company leaders and began working on real projects and tasks that Coca-Cola employees manage every day.

When you’re in a room filled with high school students, it doesn’t hurt to mention that you’re working with leading hip-hop artist Drake on Sprite’s summer campaign re-launch of “Obey Your Thirst.” James Cuthbert, Sprite brand manager, had no problem captivating the students as he led them through a real-life brand scenario. Cuthbert shared some of the many things he had to take into consideration when preparing for the campaign and challenged the students to think as a brand manager and plan various aspects of the campaign during an interactive breakout session. The students then formed groups to discuss and determine the target audience, strategy, campaign direction and message channels.

Next, the students were introduced to The Coca-Cola Company’s Legal department. Dena Rosenzweig, Coca-Cola senior counsel, showed how Legal supports all work of The Coca-Cola Company.  For many students this was the first time they learned about legal activities outside of a court room. Dara Redler then led the students through a sponsorship contract negotiation, in which the students were passionate as they acted out their representation of proposed talent or The Coca-Cola Company.

Robin Perry, senior manager of Coca-Cola’s customer marketing, and Paul Macaluso, senior vice president of marketing of FOCUS Brands, explained the partnership between Coca-Cola and Moe’s Southwest Grill and focused on the importance of communication and as well as elements that make a high-performing team.

Hector Gallardo, vice president of Coca-Cola national sales, finished the day by reflecting on his humble beginning and encouraged every student by saying, “If I can do it, you can too.” 

The students of the 21st Century Leaders’ Program were appreciative as they thanked everyone who volunteered during the program. “It was inspiring to hear stories and backgrounds from some of the top executives in the business,” said Matthew Musey of Parkview High School. “It gave me a new outlook on my life and that of the business world.”

21st Century Leaders

Although the students spent the day learning, they were not the only ones who benefited from the program—Coca-Cola employees were inspired, as well. “This event gives Coca-Cola a sense of purpose of giving back to the community—to be inspired while inspiring others,” said Gallardo. “If I affected one individual, this was a huge success.”

Cuthbert also was inspired: “I was blown away by how much I got to learn and how much these young people have to offer. It’s a pleasure coming out and seeing the energy, passion and educational promise of these amazing students. We teach, but they teach us as well.”