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Expats lose fizz, Coke gets a desi helmsman

New Delhi, July 3: Coca-Cola finally has an Indian boss for its local operations.

Sanjiv Gupta has been appointed president of the cola giant’s Indian division covering India, Bhutan, and the Maldives.

Gupta, 42, succeeds Alex von Behr who will move to the Philippine division as its president.

Rumours had swirled all through last year that Coca-Cola would finally pick an Indian to head its local operations — many tipping Gupta to head the company sometime in February this year. However, that date passed and it had seemed that Alex von Behr, the British expatriate, would stay on.

Coca-Cola has always relied on expats to head its operations in India — it has had four since 1993 when it returned to India after a gap of 16 years.

While announcing Gupta’s appointment, Patrick Siewert, Coke’s east and south Asia group president, said: “The India division has been doing a great job. It is one of the fastest growing markets of The Coca-Cola Company.”

Gupta joins a long line of top executives in India who honed their skills at Hindustan Lever. He joined Coca-Cola in 1997 as vice-president, marketing, and then took over as head of operations for company-owned bottling operations in India.

He has been credited with the successful launch of Kinley, the company’s water brand, and its foray into powdered drinks. He became deputy president of Indian operations in March last year.

Coke’s experience in India with expat bosses has been dismal though to be fair von Behr — who has had a three-year-long stint in India — has had success in turning round the company after his predecessors botched up the operations in India through constant battles with franchisee bottlers.

In fact, rival cola giant Pepsi, which has always relied on Indian CEOs starting with P. M. Sinha, always looked street smart and showed greater marketing panache.

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