homepage_name! > Editions > Number 038 > Interview - Sotiris Yannopoulos


Mr. Sotiris Yannopoulos, General Manager, Coca-Cola Hellenic Serbia

It was 1886, and in New York Harbor, workers were constructing the Statue of Liberty. Eight hundred miles away, another great American symbol was about to be unveiled.
During 1886, Coca Cola’s first year, sales averaged a modest nine drinks per day. In 2009, over 1.5billion beverage servings are sold each day. Although Coca-Cola® was first created in the United States; it quickly became popular wherever it went. Today, they produce nearly 400 brands in over 200 countries. More than 70 percent of their income comes from outside the U.S., making The Coca-Cola Company a truly global company.
Coca-Cola is committed to local markets, paying attention to what people from different cultures and backgrounds like to drink, and where and how they want to drink it. With its bottling partners, the Company reaches out to the local communities it serves, believing that Coca-Cola exists to benefit and refresh everyone it touches.

About 125 years of Coca Cola brand, life in Serbia and some very special moments, weare talking to Mr. Sotiris Yannopoulos, General Manager, Coca-Cola Hellenic Serbia

Mr. Yannopoulos, where were you born, which schools did you attend? What was your career path like before the position of General Manager of Coca-Cola Hellenic Serbia?

So, let’s start from the beginning. I was born and raised in Athens. I studied mechanical engineering at the National Technical University of Athens and I also hold a Finance and Marketing MBA from New York University. My first job was at Colgate Palmolive in New York and South Africa as Assistant Brand Manager where I spent two years. After that I joined Frito-Lay in Greece as Group Brand Manager and progressed to Marketing and Trade Marketing Director. In 2002 I was promoted to Business Development Director and initiated the entry of Frito Lay in Romania, Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. After two years I was appointed to the position of General Manager for Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova.

I can proudly say that in my previous career, I was awarded two great awards. In 2002 I was awarded the CEO prize for achieving the highest market share in the world. I won another CEO award in 2006 for my leadership in the acquisition and integration of Romania. But actually the most significant prize in my life is my beautiful family. My wife Vaso and my children Maria, Yorgos, and Nikiana.

When did you come to Coca-Cola Hellenic Serbia?

I came to Serbia in November 2009. Coca-Cola Hellenic Serbia team is one of the best in Coca-Cola Hellenic group so I was really excited because of my new appointment. Joining the best beverage system in the world and especially the most dynamic company in the bottling operations was always an objective of mine. Also, I have many friends in Serbia so I heard very nice things about Belgrade, everyday life and people who live here.

Have any changes occurred in business operations in Serbia since your arrival so far?

The biggest change is economic crises that affected many countries and markets, so Serbia as well. Despite of this, as every year up to now, we have made very ambitious business plans with high aims. As you know, Coca-Cola Hellenic Serbia is a member of the Coca-Cola Hellenic Group which operates in 28 countries. Serbian market is very important to us because we have been doing business here for a very long time. We bought production plant in Zemun in 1997, and that encouraged us to take over Vlasinka plant and also Fresh&Co from Subotica. At this moment we are more than ever focused on becoming important player on this market and on supporting our local community. We worked so hard to occupy stable position, but we are not going to satisfy with this and we are planning to continue growth and development.
How many people do you employ and how many people are there in your management team?

We employ around 1.300 people in our three bottling plants and in our other operations in Montenegro. In our organizational chart we currently have little bit over 200 people on different managerial positions. Our employees are the biggest value of this company so we aim to offer them challenging and rewarding careers, as well as a safe, fair and inclusive workplace.

You are head of one of the largest Coca-Cola bottler plant in the world. What was the value of investment and why in Serbia?

Our company has been operating in Serbia for 14 years now, ever since it acquired IBP Belgrade. The acquisition represented the highest ever foreign investment in the then Yugoslavia. So far, the company has invested over 200 million euro in its operations in Serbia, managed to quadruple its production and introduce an incredible 250 new products and packaging so as to meet an increasing number and diversity of the consumers’ needs. We take pride in the fact that we continuously invest our knowledge, efforts and financial assets to achieve high quality of our products, develop business environment, take care of our customers and employees and, by applying CSR principles, provide support to the local community.

Do you plan the expansion of your capacity here?

In 2011 our main plan is to further enhance cooperation with our customers and to remain their supplier number one. We want to stay economically speaking, the most reliable partner and to be easy to do business with. We are planning to introduce new products, but also to focus on the most loved brands, Coca-Cola and Fanta. In juice category we want to focus especially on premium products. A portion of our business plans will be directed towards improving the market position of our non-sparkling category, bottled water, ice-tea and energy drinks, Ultra and Burn.

So far we have had two successful acquisitions and at this moment we are not planning to expand through new ones.

How many brands do you have in our market at present? Besides Coca-Cola, which are sold best?

Coca-Cola System, made of Coca-Cola Hellenic Serbia and The Coca-Cola Company, offers consumers a wide range of carbonated and non-carbonated beverages and water. The offer includes four best-sold global brands: Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Zero, Fanta and Sprite. In regard to non-carbonated beverages, I would like to mention neXt, SU-Voće, Joy, Nestea, low-mineral Rosa water, which is No. 1 at the market of non-carbonated waters, while among energy drinks we offer Burn and Ultra Energy.

We are particularly proud of the fact that our production centers produce beverages for the neighboring countries as well. We constantly work on improving business processes in order to maintain the leading position and supreme product quality, since it is our major obligation and responsibility towards consumers.

Coca-Cola has one of the most recognizable and most intensive advertising campaigns, lasting for more than one century. Is marketing secret of Coca-Cola’s success or something else?

You can say that Coca-Cola has set trends and standards of business in this area. Back in 1886, when there were no print, radio or TV ads, an original idea was devised, which contributed to increasing popularity of the Coca-Cola beverage. To focus attention on the completely new beverage, free samples of Coca-Cola were distributed to citizens of Atlanta. Special coupons were placed in addition to them, based on which new consumers had a right to an additional free glass upon purchasing one glass of Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola was among the first companies which used promo persons from the very beginning of advertising, and that trend has been continued later with famous musicians, athletes, artists, designers... In the early 1990s, Coca-Cola started highlighting messages of optimism, happiness and joy in its campaigns. The global “The Coke Side of Life“ campaign had its Serbian version, “Coca-Cola strana života“, promoting joy of life and the brand as a favorite family drink.

If you ask me about the secret of success, I can tell you that it is marketing and extending limits in business, providing the best service to consumers, constant education of our employees and, naturally, support to the development of each community.

Who creates advertising campaigns and are they the same in the whole world or do you localize them?

Our entire team of experts and creative people is behind advertising campaigns. They include many who have been highly successful in this line of work. Recognizing the significance of that segment, the company has always found the best experts, people who recognize the essence of the brand and, accordingly, through teamwork, find the most adequate ways of communicating the company’s values and products. Advertising campaigns are global, but they are most often adapted to local markets after a through survey of a specific market, in order to get the best possible feedback from consumers. Also, very often we develop very interesting campaigns that are launched across Europe. Having in mind that we produce two great local brands, our “jewels” - Rosa water and NeXt juices, all

How much in percentages, globally, does the company invest from its profit into marketing?

All serious companies invest part of their budget in marketing and such budgets are planned for every year. Having in mind the competitiveness of our industry, we are not in a position to announce such information, since it is considered a business secret.

What new, current campaigns do you have in Serbia? What are you promoting this summer?

Coca-Cola celebrates the great jubilee this year and at this moment our campaign is focused on the celebration. We are very proud that we have this precious opportunity to share our happiness and to, once again, remind customers, partners and journalists of Coca-Cola history. Our campaign brings back development of Coca-Cola trough decades and we are very excited to see that people across the globe are touched by our idea.

The company pays great attention to CSR, both globally and locally. What are your priorities in Serbia, regarding energy efficiency, environmental protection, recycling...?

Every year we implement very successfully traditional campaigns, which are already popular in the public and many citizens join them, realizing their benefits and significance.

We are very proud of the Danube Day project, which has been implemented by the Coca-Cola System for six years, in partnership with the Water Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture, Trade, Forestry and Water Management, the WWF, local authorities in 14 cities which have joined the program, more than 100 NGOs and hundreds of volunteers. Last year only, the campaign messages reached two million people in various ways, and bearing in mind the significance of the preservation of the Danube eco-system, we are planning to continue with numerous activities this year as well.

I would also like to mention the traditional program of support to young and promising students - Coca-Cola Talents. For five years, we have been cooperating with the Ministry of Education and universities across Serbia, wishing to provide young people with an opportunity to develop in our company, to share with them our international experience and expertise and to motivate them to stay in the country and contribute to its growth with their professional work.

Together with The Coca-Cola Company, we invest in development and promotion of sports, recreation and active lifestyle through programs such as What’s Your Sport, Belgrade Bicycle Race, support to the Special Olympics and many others.

Our programs have a long-term character and we implement them from year to year with increasingly good results. This is confirmed by the fact that we are recognised as a trustworthy partner by the both governmental and non-governmental sector.

What do you do for local community? How do you help people, take care of their health...?

In each of 28 countries that Coca-Cola Hellenic operates within, we aim to be a good neighbor and to really contribute to the quality of life.

I can proudly say that we have developed partnerships with many governmental institutions, as well as many non-governmental ones, in the field of social security, health and safety, education, sports and culture.

Some of the projects which have been carried out in partnership with the local community have already become a tradition: Danube Day, Coca-Cola Talents, Special Olympics and Food Bank. We also take pride in the Coca-Cola Volunteer Club within which our employees, on a voluntarily basis, take part in many humanitarian activities.

In the terms of environmental protection, our aim is to minimize the impacts of our business on the natural environment. As part of doing so, we implement the internationally recognized environmental management system ISO 14001 and are working towards full certification across our business. In Serbia we first achieved ISO 14001 in February 2004 and have maintained it ever since. I must point out that we are focused on the three areas where we have the greatest impact and can therefore make the most significant contribution. These are water stewardship, energy and climate protection and packaging and recycling.

Corporate responsibility and sustainability are integral to the way we do business. Our commitment to these is embedded in our Company’s mission and values.
Which project could you single out as those focusing on talented, young people, students...?

We are we dedicated to support of youth development. Through our programs we aim to help young people develop self-esteem and leadership skills. Our most important projects focused on talented young people are Coca-Cola Talents and also Management trainee program.

Our long-standing program “Coca-Cola Talents”, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, aims to offer students theoretical knowledge and practical experience by working on specific projects, and to further develop their potential as future leaders. Up to now, a total of 35 students became Coca-Cola Talents. And this year we, with great joy we celebrated fifth anniversary.

Our company launched this program in partnership with the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Serbia, for the best students. The program has been supported by the People’s Office of the President of the Republic of Serbia, and, as of this year, Universities of Belgrade, Niš, Novi Sad, Novi Pazar and Priština. In addition to student organizations which have traditionally supported the program - AIESEC, AEGEE, Student Union of Serbia, ESTIEM, EESTEC, BEST - organizations such as SUPRA, TIM, ESF, IAAS, NAPSER, IFMSA Serbia have also joined the program. The project is also supported by the University Centre for Students with Disabilities of the University of Belgrade, Career Development Centre, Belgrade Open School, NGO Initiatives, and media partners Infostud, B92, 24 sata.

So far, 35 students have been selected for the program of Coca-Cola Hellenic Serbia, and owing to their excellent results, several students from every generation have continued to develop their leadership potential in the company, within the Management Trainee program.

Concentrating on the development of the local talents, for existing and future managerial positions, Coca-Cola Hellenic Serbia developed Management Trainee that focused on Training and Employment of graduates without previous work experience. Participants of this program are young people, future business leaders, who are going through intensive development programs which offer them working skills for any multinational company. Program lasts for one year and participants have possibility to spent time in different departments and partake in implementing projects that provide specific business results. After completion of the program, successful ones will have possibility to become member of our prosperous team. Some of our managers are former Management trainees.
How do you invest in education of your employees?

Our company continually invests in training and development of employees and crates environments Stimulating ongoing innovation, gaining new knowledge, exchange of experience, team work and support, and also creates environment in which every individual is encouraged to expand their potentials to the maximum and achieve maximum success in his career. We invest over 60.000 hours yearly in training and development of our employees. Regarding this, Coca-Cola Hellenic Serbia was awarded as second best employer in 2008 and 2009 based on research made by Infostud and Ekonomist Media Group.

This year, Coca-Cola celebrates 125th birthday. How do you celebrate it in Serbia, and globally?

Since 2011 is marked by the celebration of this highly significant anniversary, we organized large celebrations worldwide and it will was an opportunity for us to thank all our business partners, consumers, media representatives. The central celebration was organized in our headquarters in Atlanta, on May 07.

In Serbia, the 125th anniversary is marked by a large anniversary party for all those to whom we wanted to express gratitude for being with us and contributing to our position of the leader at the market of non-alcoholic beverages. The celebration represented a form of authentic time travel, Coca-Cola trip through time. The idea was to present at one place the trace which Coca-Cola, as a source of inspiration for people across the world, has left in film and music, fashion... The trip through the Victorian, Charleston and disco era is designed, with a look into the future.

We have also prepared numerous surprises for consumers. In the period May 07-09, from 9pm until 01am, citizens enjoyed 4D projections at the facade of the building of department store Robne kuće Beograd at Terazije. It is the latest technology which helps in presenting everything that Coca-Cola bring to us in the most picturesque manner – happiness, refreshment, moments of optimism. We are also preparing an exhibition of the most famous old Coca-Cola ads which are placed in modern Belgrade, and models will be our popular actors and singers. We are opening this local Coca-Cola exhibition for the Night of Museum in the Eurocentar Gallery, where all interested visitors can see it until the end of May.

Are you satisfied with business environment in Serbia and what should be, if anything, changed, in your opinion, in order to improve things and attract foreign investors?

Serbia, offers a solid environment for foreign investments, one that over the past years is improving. We have realized this at an early stage as we were one of the first investors to trust Serbia and invest in several projects. We are happy we made these choices. Serbia, today, more than before, offers business and economic stability required for more foreign investments. Already we see this happening, something that will further develop the market economy and the overall competitiveness and productivity of the country. Having said that, there are still areas that all economic operations alongside with policymakers need to keep working and improve. We believe that it is necessary for Serbia to be more efficient in regard to the harmonization with the EU regulations. More specifically, we think that it is vital to harmonize the area regulating juice quality control as soon as possible, so that consumers always have correct information on products. In addition, transparency, easiness of doing business, bureaucracy and enforcement of legislation are areas that if further improved will springboard Serbia as primary investment geography within South East Europe.

How do you spend your spare time in Serbia?

Serbia is a beautiful country, with beautiful people. I love travelling around, even if it’s for business and discovering that Serbia can offer a lot of diversity to the traveler. While in Belgrade I enjoy visiting Kosutnjak, Ada and Kalemegdan and spend time with family and friends in various cafes and restaurants around the city. Belgrade offers so many choices.

How do you relax after everyday stress?

Going home is always a thrill, as my three children are always eagerly waiting to share with me how they spent their day or just to play a bit. Children can so easily take your mind away from things and relieve from any stress you may have. Once the evening chores are done me and my wife can have some time to talk, watch TV or relax with a book or some web surfing.

If you could, what would you change in your career so far?

I would have liked to avoid the cliché of saying “nothing at all”, but honestly the steps I have made so far, even those that proved to bring more issues to me, have helped me develop and improve. This is a constant process and all the experiences I had in my life so far have added to my personality and style. So, I look back with fulfillment and joy. I am really proud to be a part of the Coca-Cola System family of over 700,000 members.