I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s as the youngest daughter of a minister and teacher and certainly never, ever considered a career in business.
So when our former pastor, Dr. Frank Harrington, exclaimed, “If you want to make God laugh… just tell Him your plans,” it resonated with me! So, although I studied education in college and never really thought of myself as a leader, I learned soon enough, that God most definitely had other plans for me, including a significant business career and the opportunity to take on many exciting and challenging leadership roles.
Over my 27-year career at The Coca-Cola Company, I traveled the world extensively with my work. This gave me the opportunity to see and learn many things, but none more impactful than the difficult, even brutal lives of many people, and especially of women in developing countries. It is remarkable to me how hard they work – and how poor and destitute so many of them are. Did you know that although women perform over two-thirds of the world’s work (paid and unpaid), they make only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of its land? It is a fact that women and girls make up the majority of the impoverished in this world, making up over 70% of the world’s poorest.
It is also a fact that business is able to lift people out of poverty and advance the economic well-being of their communities. This is not the role of government, but of business. Yes, government must create the conditions that enable businesses to do their job well, but it does not create wealth. Much of what I have learned about the critical role of business in the world, I’ve learned at The Coca-Cola Company, which is certainly not a Christian company, but is an exemplary model of fulfilling the role of business around the world and a place where, as a Christian, I was proud to work. Here’s why…
Many people don’t realize that Coca-Cola’s local business model around the world means that their 500 brands and 3,000 products are made, sold and serviced, locally, in 900 bottling plants – in every country but two. The Coca-Cola system, including their franchised bottlers, employs about 1 million people worldwide and, indirectly, millions more.
For example, in Africa, where they are the continent’s largest private employer, they employ more than 60,000 people directly, and for every single job they create, another 17 jobs are created indirectly! Those jobs not only provide salaries that help to pull families out of poverty, they provide benefits, local expenditures for supplies, services and capital that stimulate the economy and, of course, taxes that support the local infrastructure and government. Their business there is done, almost exclusively, through traditionally family-owned retailers, as it is in most developing countries. They’ve spawned millions of small, family-owned businesses in thousands of communities all around the world. I like to say that Coca-Cola was in “micro-financing” before micro-financing was cool! Most Americans are now familiar with the concept of “micro-financing.” Most also know that the vast majority of these small loans are given to women, who use them as seed money to start their own small businesses to help pull their families out of poverty. It is the women in these countries who not only need these loans more, they are more motivated to create new businesses, support each other, invest in their families and communities and pay back their loans reliably. These women are clearly demonstrating real leadership, even in the midst of the most challenging circumstances. And, as Christians, this entrepreneurial urge to create and enjoy work should not be at all surprising. For God created humankind in His image, including the desire to continue the creative work that He began.
But a business’ economic impact goes well beyond simply job creation. In 2010, The Coca-Cola Company spent about $3.5 billion in salaries and benefits, $3 billion in shareholder dividends, $1.5 billion in capital expenditures, $8 billion in local purchases of supplies and $2 billion in income taxes. That doesn’t even take into account the local taxes generated by the sale of their products through retailers or the economic footprint of their local bottlers, which multiplies the impact by billions more. All businesses should contribute to the communities they serve in some way – and if they don’t, they won’t last long.
The critical importance of business in God’s kingdom is a topic that I began to study and have been speaking about for several years now. My experience has helped me to more fully understand God’s purpose for business, which, I believe, is to advance the economic well-being of communities throughout the world, and as the only source of wealth creation, to enable every other institution to exist!
Think about it. Government doesn’t create wealth; it gets all of its wealth from taxpayers. Nor do schools, hospitals, churches, missions or any 501(c)3 organization. In fact, all of these institutions are voracious consumers of wealth and are fully reliant on business for their very existence. In other words, without successful, profitable, sustainable business, this world just simply doesn’t work.
"As I came to realize that the business I was in and the work I did each day contributed to advancing the economic, social and even spiritual well-being of people and communities around the world, I began to see how to honor God and others – not simply by being ethical at work, but by honoring Him and serving others in both the product and the process of my work. I believe that everyone can do that in their own work, whatever it may be."Bonnie Wurzbacher
Michael Novak, in his classic book, Business as a Calling, explains that “…the Creator made us to work in community and to cooperate freely with and for others…this creative community is, with the exception of Christianity, the greatest transforming power of the condition of the poor on earth. Business seeks out people of talent, initiative and enterprise who want to better their condition and that of others.”
How does your business contribute to the well-being of the communities you serve? Understanding and internalizing how it does – and how you contribute to it – will make your work more meaningful and fulfilling.
Bonnie Wurzbacher has held various executive and global leadership roles at The Coca-Cola Company in sales, marketing and management, rising to Senior Vice President, Global Customer & Channel Leadership. Bonnie is currently engaged as a Senior Advisor to World Vision, the largest Christian humanitarian organization in the world, working in over 100 countries to tackle the causes of poverty and injustice. She and her husband, Steve, have homes in Atlanta and Texas and one son, Daniel, who is married to the former Jessica Fry.Read More Articles by Bonnie Wurzbacher