When you love what you are doing, you will be successful; but if you are not really convinced about your actions, you will never accomplish success, says Lana Popović, General Manager of Coca-Cola for Poland and the Baltic countries.
Since the beginning of July 2016, Lana Popović has been managing Coca-Cola Poland Services. Who is the new director of Coca-Cola in Poland? What kind of manager is she? What was her idea about Poland before she came here?
You have been working for Coca-Cola for 15 years...
How does Coca-Cola differ from other companies?
- First of all it’s the greatest company of all the FMCG companies around the world because of the brand. The brand’s magic really influences all employees.
How has Coca-Cola changed in the last 15 years?
- The couple of things. Number one: if there is one constant thing in Coke, that is change. This is not a coincidence. Consumers and the market change and we have to adjust to the context in which we are operating. Therefore, you cannot get bored in Coca-Cola. And there’s one more constant thing about Coca-Cola. This is passion. The energy which people contribute to Coca-Cola and the love for the brand. At the same time, we are constantly maturing, learning and developing. And all of this happens at the same time. We are changing and the speed of such changes is increasing, because the reality surrounding us is changing more and more quickly.
You make an impression of a dynamic person. Do you like working in a dynamic environment?
- Yes. But I can also imagine working peacefully in insolation. However, I draw energy from interaction. This is not a coincidence that I have been working for this company for 15 years. During this time, a number of things have changed, but we continue to be a dynamic environment strongly oriented at constant learning.
You talk about changes a lot; changes are related to frequent travels and moves. Is this an advantage or a drawback of this work?
- In a certain degree, changes are always related to the unknown and to tension. However, from my point of view, these experiences are the cause of joy. I am very curious of the world and I consider changes in my life an advantage. Wherever I moved, within or outside Coke, the changes have always enriched me: new experiences, friendships, culture, life in a different city. When I was single, frequent travels were not a problem for me. Now, when I have a family, the situation is slightly different. I moved to Warsaw with my son and parents. Thanks to the assistance and support of my family, I can be happy with all the changes and novelties that are related to moving to Poland.
Which country did you fancy the most before coming to Poland?
- I came to Greece from the Croatian coast, which I love. However, I quickly fell in love with Greece too. The local culture, the beauty of nature and the fantastic cuisine make me recall the time I spent there with great fondness…
Do you notice any differences between consumers in various countries?
- I pay more attention to the universal values rather than to local differences. Obviously, it is necessary to take the local context into account and to adjust to it. You need to be sensitive in order to notice such local determinants and to learn how to harmonise with them. You have to understand the consumers in a given country, their specific characteristics. Who are they? What do they want? However, people are usually guided by similar values and that is why we treat our consumers as a whole – in the same way in Croatia, in Greece and in Poland. For example, the desire to look for new things is the same, disregarding the geographic latitude. The basis is to treat the consumers in a way that they trust us, respecting the local context.
What has been the greatest challenge during your career?
- Maternity. This is a true revolution. Birth of my son turned out to be a huge challenge. The key thing was to determine priorities. I also learnt in practice the importance of balance between your private life and your professional life. Priorities are very important in life, because we make choices all the time. Making the right choices and understanding their importance was a huge challenge for me as a mother.
Is it difficult for you to reconcile maternity with professional work?
- No. I believe that you can always be a professional, yet I always repeat that the most important thing is to be a mother. The secret lies in making choices that you agree with. If you choose in line with the values that matter to you, you can reconcile everything.
However, some people find it hard to make such important decisions; they do not know which way to go…
- The most important thing is to know who you are and to accept the fact that you have to work on yourself all the time. This is probably the most important issue in life, to answer the question: whom am I really?
Do you have any recipes for success?
- Every day in the evening, before I go to sleep, I devote ten or maybe fifteen minutes to something that you may call meditation or reflection. I think about the day that is ending, about the things I did. I ask myself whether I have learnt anything, whether I should have done things differently or better – at work or in my relations with my son. I can talk about success when I look at myself in the mirror and I feel good, when I am in harmony with myself. However, the most important thing for me is to leave traces, small traces that change the reality. This may be a moment of conversation, a meeting with somebody or solving somebody’s problem. It is also important for me to be reliable and to change the world, in a greater or lesser degree, according to my potential. Then I feel fulfilled. Leaving this positive trace makes me believe that I am successful.
You want to change the world and you expect a lot from yourself. What do you expect from your colleagues?
- The most important thing is that I do not expect more from others than I expect from myself (laughs). Honesty is very important, but for me, the most important thing is curiosity. I want people to love what they are doing; I expect that they will make mistakes and learn from them. When you love what you are doing, you will be successful, but if you are not really convinced about your actions, you will never accomplish success. Therefore, I expect my team to be “present” here and now and I want my team members to like their jobs. What does it mean to be here and now? I will give you an example. If you work as a brand manager in Coca-Cola, you are fully focused on this area and you entirely devote yourself to it. You do not waste time on irrelevant things, unrelated to your tasks. You simply derive joy and energy from working as a Coca-Cola brand manager, you like this role. At the same time, you remember that you – and nobody else - are responsible for the team. Additionally, this work gives you many reasons to be proud. This is very important: to be proud of what one does in professional life. If you have such approach to your work, you can also find the courage and the willingness to try to do new things, to learn and to draw conclusions for the future.
Do you support your team strongly?
- I consider myself a straightforward and honest person. I do not lock myself up in my cabinet. My door is always open and everyone can come and talk to me. I support my team. If I can inspire, support, develop and teach them something, I am ready to do it. As I said before, I want to leave positive traces. And this is not about altruistic motives, I simply work in a symbiosis with my team and I am always ready to support it.
What are the most important traits of a good leader?
- Mahatma Gandhi said: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. Servant leadership is a concept quite popular in India. You are as good as your team. There are many differences between leaders and ordinary managers. A leader is somebody whom people want to follow, even if he has no titles and positions. A manager needs a hierarchy to be efficient. A manager often says: “I did it!”, “I am the one to whom we owe the results!” Being a leader is completely different. This is about managing a team that is proud of its results, a team that continues to develop together with the area for which it is responsible. So when I think about the kind of a leader that I am trying to be, the model for which I am striving, it would be a person who continues to develop together with the entire team.
If you had to point out one person who inspires you in your professional life, who would it be?
- I have never had a single authority. There are many people who inspired me at various stages of my life and my work. It would not be just of me if I pointed out one person who has shaped me. However, I can say that I am inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. Some of his thoughts influenced my life and my career. Gandhi talked a lot about constant development, about learning and about humility. When I think about inspiration more broadly, one of the most important books in my life is the “Little Prince.” Both sources of inspiration teach you that quality will always win with quantity and content with form. On everyday basis, I try to choose sources and books that are devoted to ongoing development and to people who change the world, even though they are not necessarily the ones that shout most loudly about it.
How do you charge your batteries after hard work?
- First of all through interaction with people. But when I really want to relax, I read, I play the piano or I listen to the music. I am definitely not a sports person. Obviously, I like sailing and I can ski, but I am not really good at it. So, I prefer reading. In books, you can find thoughts that are really moving.
How do you feel at your new position?
- In a certain degree, change is always related to the unknown and to tension. This was also the case when I accepted the new position. But from the very beginning I was bursting with energy and I am very happy that I can be here. There are moments in life when we are not looking for changes. To be honest, I did not need any changes in my life. I had held my previous position for just a year and I still wanted to do a lot of things. When I was offered the opportunity of taking the position in Poland, I felt that I was ready for this change and that I could do a lot of positive things in the new role and to leave a positive trace. Poland is a very important country on account of its location and the size of the market. I realised that I could change some things here by offering my energy, by building new things. I said, all right, I did not do everything that I wanted in the previous job, but I will accept the new challenge. This will be a unique journey for me, both in the professional and in the private context, so keep your fingers crossed for me
Are you going to learn Polish?
- Yes. My son is enrolled in an international school, but I also insist on his Polish classes. This is a great opportunity to benefit from, and to learn something. In any case, learning Polish should not be too difficult as both languages – Polish and Croatian – have common roots.
What was the image of Poland that you had before coming here?
- I lived in Croatia in the past and I had contact with Poles who came there as tourists. So I knew that the culture was similar. I perceived Poles as open people, who have good intentions and good hearts. Obviously, I do not know much about Poland, I still have to visit so many places. But I am very happy that I will be able to get to know Poland closely.