Coca-Cola promotes India chief Atul Singh to bigger global role

Coca-Cola Co today announced the promotion of Atul Singh, currently the head of Indian and Southwest Asian operations, as the deputy president of its Pacific Group, making him the first person of Indian origin to take on a role of such importance at the world's largest beverage maker.

Atul SinghIn his new role, effective from 1 July, Singh's area of responsibility will include two of the company's key business units for soft drink business in the region - China (number three for Coke in volume terms) and India (seventh).

Singh, 53, will oversee Coca-Cola's operations in 10 of the 38 Asia-Pacific countries, excluding the two big markets of Japan (fifth-largest market) and Australia & New Zealand. That Singh will be based out of India will be a rare example of a top boss of a multinational firm overseeing its business in China from Indian shores.

China and India together account for 10 per cent of Coca-Cola's total global volumes. While the soft drink giant sells 700 million cases a year in India, its sales volumes from China are three times that number. As part of its vision for 2020, Coke expects India to become its fifth-largest market in the world. The US still remains its largest market, while Mexico comes next.

For the past eight years, Singh has overseen the company's operations in the markets of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives. ''Under his leadership, the Indian operations have registered 27 consecutive quarters of growth - 19 of those of double-digit growth,'' Coca-Cola said in a statement.

''Given the enormous growth opportunities in China, and the uniquely competitive beverage landscape, Singh's focus will largely be on the Greater China and Korea Business Unit, which also includes Taiwan, Mongolia and Hong Kong & Macau,'' Coca-Cola said in a statement. Singh will continue to report to Coca-Cola's international president Ahmet Bozer.

After joining the company's Indian business as vice-president (marketing) in 1997, Singh headed its franchisee bottling operations from 1999 to 2002.

Before taking over as the president of Coca-Cola India, he also worked as the president for the East, Central & South China division.

When he returned to India as Coke's president for the country, replacing Sanjiv Gupta, the company was going through a crisis, with sales declining and a pesticide controversy and groundwater use issues adding to the worries.

Under its India and China focus, the company, which invested $5 billion in China between 1979 and 2011, will now invest another $4 billion in China by 2014.

In India, where it invested $2 billion between 1993 and 2012, the company has lined up investments of $5 billion by 2020. Coca-Cola has 42 bottling plants in China and 57 in India.

Singh will be presiding over a huge expansion in these two countries in the next few years.

In an aggressive bid to crack the two million retailers in rural India, Singh has been experimenting with mainstream fruit-based beverage Maaza for Rs6 in a low-cost tetra-fino packaging. Offered in a 100ml pack, it is also the smallest size of packaging for a product in this category. This is widely seen as a way to improve per-capita beverage consumption, which in India is a mere 14 a person a year, compared with 39 a person annually in China.

The restructuring would not affect the company-owned bottling business, Hindustan Coca-Cola beverages, the Coca-Cola statement clarified.