George Droumev
Technical Director, Coca-Cola GmbH

“Coca-Cola seemed incredibly far away”

Initially he didn’t dare to apply and today George Droumev boasts an international professional career of 20 years with Coca-Cola.

“My history with Coca-Cola stretches over a period of 20 years; that’s the largest part of my professional life. I joined the Company in February 1993. So much has happened during all these years that I hardly noticed how time went by.

Radical changes and building

I come from Bulgaria. When I joined Coke, Eastern Europe was undergoing radical changes; it was a tough and interesting time. All of a sudden we came into contact with other cultures. Coca-Cola was something like a symbol for the Western world for us at that time. When I was young, it had always been difficult to get a Coke. For that reason sort of a mystery surrounded Coca-Cola. During my youth we did as follows: Whenever we got a Coca-Cola, we drank it and took the bottle to the next outlet to buy sweets with the deposit. In this way we had the sweet Coke and a little extra.

When I graduated from the Technical University in 1990 the most difficult period started in Bulgaria. I was a mechanical engineer and hardly able to support my family. Then I got a job in Nigeria and I decided to go to Africa for a year to work for a construction company; I led the installation of the air conditioning equipment in the hotel we were building. Apart from learning everything about air conditioning, I also learned English and worked with people from many different countries. It was my first international experience.

When the project ended, I came back and was without a job. In 1992 Coca-Cola planned to open a branch in Bulgaria. They were looking for people in the fields of marketing, technology and finance. I read the job ad in the newspaper and knew that this was exactly what I wanted. But I did not even dare to dream about it. Coca-Cola seemed to be so far away. One evening my wife asked whether I had read the job ad correctly because she thought that it was such a good match as if it had practically been written for me. But I did not have the courage to respond. We were arguing for three days, and then I was fed up. At the end of the day I wrote my application only to no longer have to discuss this topic. After several tests and interviews I got the job. It had been the best decision of my life to write this application.

Pioneer spirit in bottles

At the beginning I worked as a Field Engineer. When my colleague in Quality Assurance resigned, her functions were transferred to me on top. I implemented quality standards in bottling plants. During four years I travelled to bottlers in my home country and inspected the technical & quality systems. Then we also started launching new products, such as Fanta and Sprite. I started to take over responsibility for an increasing number of countries. First Serbia and Macedonia were added, then Malta and Albania. During that time I developed myself above all geographically and learned to work with different cultures & nationalities.

In 1998 I went to Atlanta for a year and attended a program for associates who were to take over leadership functions in the technical field. I discovered a completely new perspective. Up to that time I had done some practical technical work. In the USA I was introduced to the “corporate way of thinking”. When I returned I took over the Adriatic, Balkan and East Mediterranean Region, which included Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia, Israel, Palestine, Serbia and Montenegro. Later I 'lost' Israel & Palestine, but added Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Moldova. Although these were rather small countries, we had an incredible growth at that time.

In 2009 I joined Europe Group and led the Supply Chain Operations for our juice business. In 2012 I changed over to Berlin as Technical Director for Coca-Cola Germany. Leaving my home country was initially strange. I am part of the history of Coca-Cola Bulgaria; I was the first associate to be recruited there. Others came and left; I had always been there. When I moved to Europe, my Bulgarian colleagues no longer knew who to contact for historical facts. For them I had always been a walking archive.

Learning for life

All the transfers within Coke have always been a great stroke of luck for me. Changes always helped me evolve, personally, professionally and culturally. I became familiar with many different ways of thinking and working. Today I can adapt my language to the different countries and people. I can talk to government officials, public authorities, ordinary people. When I come to a new place, I try to find out everything about the customs and taboos in the country. All of that is very important for good cooperation.

If I could make a wish, I would simply want to continue like that, with all the changes and curious situations. I experienced the tough reality in Israel and Palestine, waking up by helicopter raids, I often had to go to the West Bank, was guarded by security forces in Albania, I was in Serbia, when one never knew who would attack next. Sometimes I got into real war or post-war situations. But somebody had to do it, the Company had to grow. So I want to go on. I want to continue to develop myself, solve problems, work with people of different origins. Changes mean evolution. Routine leads to paralysis.

Open, professional, passionate

If I were to advise young professionals, I would focus on three topics. Firstly: Be open, take up ideas, listen to people and gather experience. Secondly: be professional. Do everything as best you can. Mediocrity is not acceptable. Thirdly: Be passionate. You must be happy of what you are doing; otherwise you will not be successful. 

It is also important that the job suits your family. Work-life balance has always been important for me. My family always benefited from everything Coke did for me. There were tough years, during which I was hardly at home. At the same time my children have seen and learned a lot as a result of my international deployment. Today they are cosmopolitan in a natural way. Moreover, the positive mood of the company is transmitted to the family. Even after strenuous working days I try to come home in a good mood.”