“Leaders Need to Listen Twice As Much As They Speak”

Nikos Koumettis is a high flyer. One of the most successful Coca Cola executives and a visionary mind dedicated to improving leadership practices and actively supporting young talent. We interview him for Global Thinkers Forum and learn a lot from his professional and personal journey.

Q: What was your journey like to get to where you are?

A: It’s been a journey of constant evolution and change. Ever since I was young, I have been willing to try new things and venture outside my comfort zone – feeling energised when I push myself, personally and professionally.

Part of this evolution includes an exploration of different cultures. It’s exciting – not only to travel, but also to broaden your mind and expand your frame of reference. A natural curiosity and genuine interest to learn what makes others tick have always helped me, inside and outside of my work.

"Never take no for an answer – be persistent and stand your ground"

Nikos Koumettis President, Central & Eastern Europe of the Coca-Cola Company

I applied this point of view when I started my career, aged 23. I tried to learn as much as possible, building a deep understanding of businesses from the perspective of a specific function. I was never afraid to take on new roles and learn new ways of working.

Q: What formative experiences influenced you the most?

A: I was born with a natural inquisitiveness for diversity. My father was from Cyprus. He worked in Sudan, where I lived until I was four, in Khartoum. Diversity was never discussed at school – we simply accepted it as part of our everyday lives. This mindset has stayed with me ever since – I have always welcomed and value diversity of culture and thought. 

Q: What are the most important things you have learned for leadership, entrepreneurship and mentoring others?

A: Regarding leadership and mentoring, it’s so important to listen twice as much as you speak – that’s the only way you can really understand people’s talent and potential. And when you’re a leader, it’s vital to surround yourself with people who are different to you, so you have true diversity of thinking. 

As for being an entrepreneur, one of the most important things I have learned is never take no for an answer – be persistent and stand your ground. 

All Employee Meeting in Warsaw (+600 associates) in November

For example, if you believe you have a killer idea, keep pursuing it and don’t stop at the first 'no'. If someone had told me a few years ago that one programme could bring together 70 companies, 130 organisations, and 80 individuals providing more than 1.2 million euros worth of pro-bono services, I would not have believed them and neither would you! But this happened with the ReGeneration internship programme in Greece. And it happened in a country facing one of the most difficult socio-economic crises in its modern history.

Q: Tell us about a recent story that made headlines, and really impressed or even shocked you. 

A: The humanitarian struggles of Syrian refugees. Living in Greece, this is a global story being played out on our front yard. I’ve found myself reflecting on my country and myself as a citizen and a leader at Coca-Cola, asking if we are doing enough to help.

Really, this is not a matter of watching and sympathising from a safe distance. In Greece – and all over Europe – we are physically close to this tragic situation, but we also need to be emotionally and practically engaged. I go with my family to meet and talk with refugees at some of the centres here, and we support in any way we can. 

Q: What are the qualities that define a successful leader?

A: I would say the most important are listening to others, curiosity, broad-mindedness, standing your ground and having the self-confidence to recognise that you don’t need all of the answers. It’s more important to know the right questions to ask. 

Q: There seems to be a crisis of confidence and trust between people and their leaders. Do you agree that this is the case? If so, what can we do about it?

A: The two most important things that create trust in leadership are authenticity and transparency. I think we are currently seeing a crisis in these values and that is eroding trust – in politics, business and wider society. Negative values are undermining a positive outlook, and even some of the worst aspects of the past – such as racism, intolerance and social unrest – are coming back, threatening our open and welcome society. It’s a worrying crisis of character that we need to counter with optimism, openness and honesty.

Speech at The Hellenic Initiative Gala in NY last September

Q: Can you tell us a couple of success stories among youth in Greece that you have supported through Regeneration?

A: When I came back to Greece in 2011, I set myself a goal: to offer support to anyone below 30 who asks for my help. I am sticking to this, supporting in any way I can, through mentoring, partnerships, networking, and scholarships. I also talk to students at schools and universities about values and how they can build themselves as people and not just apply the right tactics to plot a career.
We have a choice: we can sympathise with young people from afar, or help them. That takes time, dedication and commitment. 

Q: What’s your biggest dream in life?

A: I’m happy in my life. I’m in a better position than I thought possible when I was younger, I am fulfilled and I sleep well at night. I still have a big dream though, and that is to influence positively as many people as I can. 

Q: What makes a Global Thinker?

A: Believing that you’re the one person who can start a movement.

You also need to think well beyond your geography – be open-minded and take time to understand what’s going on around the world. 

Nikos Koumettis

President, Central & Eastern Europe of the Coca-Cola Company

Nikos Koumettis is appointed President, Central & Eastern Europe Business Unit of The Coca-Cola Company, based in Athens, effective August 1st, 2016. 

The Unit will comprise 26 diverse countries, with new additions, Russia, Belarus & Ukraine. He was previously appointed President, Central & Southern Europe Business Unit of The Coca-Cola Company on April 1st, 2011, a unit comprising 23 European countries. He recently led CSE to its first ever Woodruff Cup nomination for 2015 results. The BU achieved the highest ever share in Sparkling beverages. During his tenure, the BU has achieved substantial increases in Corporate Reputation and Employee Engagement. Nikos was appointed President, Coca-Cola, Ltd., based in Toronto, Canada on June 1, 2008. While in Canada, he successfully led the franchise in re-establishing business fundamentals and returning to growth. Under his leadership, Canada grew the Coca-Cola Trademark for the first time in seven years, and a new culture of winning was instilled – resulting in the Business Unit’s first-ever Woodruff Cup qualification in 2009 and again in 2010.
Nikos moved to Canada after leading The Coca-Cola Company’s Adriatic and Balkans Business Unit, based in Bucharest, Romania from 2003-2008. He developed the business in nine diverse countries, including Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Croatia. Company brands led all ready-to-drink categories in the territory; volume, revenue, profits doubled in 5 years.
Nikos joined The Coca-Cola Company in 2001, as Southeast Mediterranean Region General Manager with responsibilities for Greece and Cyprus, where he achieved the highest volume and share, and created the first ever Zero product globally – Sprite Zero. Prior to joining the Company, he served in marketing roles with Kraft Jacobs Suchard; sales and distribution roles with a large Greek distribution company, Elgeka; and commercial and logistics functions for Papastratos S. A. / Phillip Morris, the biggest tobacco company in Greece. In December 2015, he undertook additional responsibilities as Global Chairman for Franchise Leadership (Coca-Cola University) with the goal of developing global talent & succession of General Managers/BU Presidents. He is a board member of Canada Goose and is a Trustee on the Board of the American College of Greece. He co-founded Regeneration with the Global Shapers (Athens hub), to address youth unemployment in Greece by creating the largest internship program for talented graduates. From 1989-2000, he taught part-time International Marketing & Sales Management at The American College of Greece and from 1992-2000, Principles of Marketing at Panteion University. He has shared his experience and perspectives on Leadership in a series of lectures to Harvard Graduates. Nikos holds a Master of Science degree in International Marketing from Strathclyde Business School, and a B.Sc. in Business Administration from the American College of Greece. He is a Greek-Cypriot, born in Sudan and raised in Greece. He is married to Sarita Chaim and they have 2 children, Petros (15) & Felicia (13). He is an avid skier and sailor.

Published: 22/05/2017