BEIRUT: Good leadership requires the will to make a difference in the lives of the people you are serving, according to the president of Coca Cola International, Ahmet Bozer. To be a good leader, one must “work every day for something bigger than [one]self,” he said at the American University of Beirut’s Olayan School of Business Monday.
“Always subscribe to the principle that to be promoted or to get a raise or to move on in life, you always have to create value outside,” he told a packed audience of students and faculty members.
“If the work that you do does not create value somewhere, for someone, don’t expect to get any value back.”
Bozer has worked to apply such principles to the Coca Cola Company, which he joined in 1990 as a Financial Controller Manager before rising through the ranks. “As a business, too, you’ve got to add value to the society you operate in,” he said. “Because business is so powerful, more is expected.”
Leadership also requires the ability to see potential conflicts or paradoxes as an opportunity for growth, Bozer said.
“‘Is business for profit or is it for social causes?” Bozer asked the audience, highlighting a problematic many business leaders see as an unresolvable paradox. “If you accept the question to be right, you will struggle to find a way to balance things and you’ll be lost.”
Instead, Bozer said, business leaders must embrace social causes as part of their model. “For the business to make a profit, it has to be accepted in the community,” he explained.
The same is true of environmentalism, he said.
Bozer added that cultivating strong business relationships was an important aspect of leadership.
“Every time you have a business relationship with someone, that person should think two things about you: that you really are competent ... and number two that you can be trusted,” he said. “And you have to invest in those relationships.”
Speaking to the students in the audience, Bozer stressed the importance of developing a global outlook. “If you see yourself as a Lebanese talent or a Middle Eastern talent, you’re limiting yourself,” he said.
Rather, aspiring young leaders must strive to become “global talent,” he said.
“You have to start training yourself to think globally. You develop a curiosity for what’s going on around the world, and you have to experience the world,” he said.
“The path to leadership is hard work,” Bozer admitted. “And you will never feel accomplished at the end of the day. I do not necessarily feel accomplished because I feel there is so much more that I can do that I’m not doing.”
Fielding questions from the audience, Bozer acknowledged that Coca Cola Co. has work to do in the Lebanese market, where competitor Pepsi is more readily available.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in different parts of the Middle East, but we haven’t made as much progress in the Levant,” he said.
“But [at] Coca Cola Co., we are not good losers, so we will definitely aim for leadership in this country as well, and you can count on that.”