Companies

In the hot seat, KK will need a chilled Coke

Vinay Kamath Chennai | Updated on January 15, 2018

T Krishnakumar

A few years ago, T Krishnakumar, the newly anointed President of Coca-Cola India, organised a visit for a media team to mango orchards in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. Coca-Cola was keen to showcase the ground-up work it was doing with farmers to source mango pulp for its blockbuster Maaza brand.

The mango belt is an important source for Coke’s juice brand as 60 per cent of the pulp is from farmers in that district. KK, as he’s popularly known, was making sure his team was clued in to the company’s sourcing operations as well, and not just the front-end.

This attention to detail will stand KK in good stead as he takes over the top job at Coca-Cola India from Venkatesh Kini at a time when the world’s most valuable brand is facing pressure in India, which it expects will be a huge market in the years to come.

Earlier this week, Coca-Cola reported a low, single-digit decline in sales volumes in its India and South-West Asia operations in the January-March period. That traders in Tamil Nadu, a large market for soft-drink makers, boycotted both Coke and Pepsi just when the summer was taking off, didn’t help matters. KK will definitely need a large glass of chilled cola as he ascends the hot seat.

But KK, with vast experience in a variety of companies, is no stranger to market shocks. He has already spent more than a decade in the Coca-Cola system, having joined in 2004 as Region Manager for the company for East India. He was appointed Region Vice-President for the Central Region in 2005. In 2007, he was appointed Chief Operating Officer of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB) and CEO in 2009. During his tenure, Coca-Cola consolidated the bottling operations, buying out franchisee bottlers.

Today, 67 per cent of Coke’s volumes are from company-owned bottlers and 33 per cent from franchisees. The company also saw growth in double digits, till the slowing down this year. The past year also saw Coke shut down a few bottling units, hit by unrest over water issues from local communities.

KK joined Coca-Cola from detergent maker Henkel India. Henkel’s former MD, Satish Kumar, has fond memories of him. “KK was dynamic and aggressive, as well as a good team leader,” he says. An MBA from IIM-B, KK worked in Asian Paints and with the Murugappa Group, before moving out of Parry Confectionery before it was sold to Lotte. Now that the baton has passed on from one top IIM alumnus (Kini is from IIM-A) to another, it will be interesting to see what’s in store for Coke.

Published on April 28, 2017

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