Vice President, Global Supplier Diversity, The Coca-Cola Company

Coca-Cola's Terrez Thompson; Linking Supplier Diversity & Business Goals

by Albert Lin & Stacy Straczynski

With no background in procurement, Terrez Thompson was not an obvious choice to succeed Johnnie Booker as The Coca-Cola Company’s head of supplier diversity. But Thompson’s varied experiencesin Finance, Innovation and Operations, and Public Affairsworked in her favor.

“I’m not a supplier-diversity expert but I have a wealth of business experience,” she says. “As a result, I have been allowed to focus us on truly integrating supplier diversity in the business and being true partners to business and procurement leaders. “Ron [Lewis, Vice President of Procurement and Chief Procurement Officer] wanted to ensure the external and internal community that Coke takes supplier diversity seriously. There’s a community aspect and business imperatives that come with it. So it was a natural fit for me when they hired me.” Since succeeding Booker in April 2012, Thompson has focused on fully integrating the supplier diversity team across the supply chain of the organization, a task made more challenging by The Coca-Cola Company’s acquisition of Coca-Cola Enterprises (resulting in a new division, Coca-Cola Refreshments). This brought about the need to combine both companies’ processes and to ensure that the team covers the spend across a much larger organization. “With the merger, we now have a vast playing field of opportunity that will yield diverse suppliers across a broad spectrum,” Thompson says.

“Incorporating all divisions across our global system gives us the capacity and capability to build a sustained diverse-supplier base over time and allow us to reach our goals.

Also important to Thompson is positioning her team to be seen as more than just an extension of community affairs. “We want to be known as supplier-diversity sourcing professionals,” she says.

“When we’re going to trade shows and identifying potential suppliers, we have to be confident and clearly understand the value these organizations bring to the table. There’s not a whole lot of room for error; one missed opportunity or bad placement can have long-term implications.

“There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of traction with people in our procurement section. They’re calling me as much as I’m calling them, asking our team for innovative ways to structure deals to bring more minorities and women into the company to provide business services.”

Mentoring MBEs and WBEs

Enhancing Coca-Cola’s Supplier Mentoring Program is another one of Thompson’s priorities. The company will continue to support the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council’s Mentor Protg Connection by having one or two mentees be part of the program. But Thompson also wants Coca-Cola to leverage existing internal capabilities to develop suppliers on an ongoing basis rather than in a one-off mentoring program. Later this year, her team will help launch a pilot program that will include: company executives’ committing to one or two sessions per year to sit down one-on-one with key diverse suppliers and discuss business strategy and business-development opportunities; collaborating with thought leaders at universities; and ultimately taking advantage of some of Coca-Cola University’s online training tools.

“This is something I’m very passionate about; it’s a way to sustain our supplier-diversity program,” she says. “We’re hoping that the suppliers we bring in will be here for the long run and not turning over. The truth of the matter is, with all the support we have you also have to know suppliers that may not work for your system. The worst mistake is to bring someone in that isn’t right for your company.”

Raising the Bar

Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent has publicly committed to the growth of supplier diversity within the company’s business strategy called 2020 Vision. Part of that initiative is a program called 5by20, which seeks to economically empower 5 million women entrepreneurs globally by the year 2020. “Addressing how we bring women into the system globally will enable us to double our spend over the next five years with global women businesses around the world and to provide readiness programs,” Thompson says. “5by20 has set a clear vision for us to galvanize around to build buy in and investment. We can then go to business partners and show that supplier diversity is global and continue to build on this successful momentum.” Coca-Cola works with WEConnect International on 5by20.

Growing up in Baltimore, this is not the work Thompson thought she’d be doing; she’d always wanted to be a civil-rights attorney before opting into the business world. Still, she says, “I tell people it’s an ideal role for me at this point in my career. It allows me to pay it forward in a way that a civil-rights attorney would do within an area that fully supports the business goals of the companywhich is important for any business professional but especially meaningful to an African-American female. It’s a way to rally the organization to feel good about what the business is doing while fully supporting its business imperatives.”

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