Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Structure Is Not A Familiar Term For India

Coca Cola’s Miguel Ruz finds India quite similar to his homeland Chile. But that doesn’t make his job any less challenging

Published: Jun 9, 2011 06:53:45 AM IST
Updated: Jun 9, 2011 07:54:29 AM IST
Structure Is Not A Familiar Term For India
Image: Dileep Prakash for Forbes India
A RIDE TO REMEMBER Miguel Angel Ruz cycles to stay fit

Miguel Angel Ruz
Designation: VP, South Asia, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia
Past Career: Coca Cola operations director in Peru for three years prior to India stint. Before that with Coca Cola, Chile
Future Strategy: To grow the markets under him through better relations with his customers and to use his experience from Peru and Chile to relate to people here
Interests: Cooking, biking

I always like to drive my own car. I was told that driving in India would be a hassle. But I find it easy — I think my experience in Chile and Peru was a training ground that serves me quite well in the chaotic traffic here.

I arrived here a year-and-a-half ago. When I was in Peru, one day I was called by my boss and given the choice to come to India. My initial reaction was ‘Wow!’

For me it was a challenge I wanted. If you want to grow in a global organisation, you need to have experience leading in different geographies. When I told my family, they were open to a new experience. My kids most certainly miss their friends back in Chile and Peru, where we lived for more than three years, but I think they are adapting quite fast to the life here.

Much like driving here, the culture too is not unfamiliar. Let me tell you why — even in Chile or Peru, you have a family-centric society. Certainly in some ways it’s less conservative, and family values are expressed in different ways, but on the whole, you grow up with your immediate family and your cousins and relatives. Here I see the same thing, the same approach, and so I can understand people here better, and get their concerns and priorities.

It was more challenging to understand them while working. People are generally not that direct. They like to sugar-coat it a bit, or sound a bit ambiguous instead of voicing their opinion in a yes or no. So, I learnt many of them like to be in the grey area, than taking a clear stand. For example, a colleague might say, “I get your point”, but there might be some doubts remaining. That known, I now prod my colleagues to come out with opinions frankly, and be straightforward.

You need to keep in mind that structure is not a familiar term here. People usually like to improvise and then get things done in a hurry. The amazing thing is that they seem to manage to get things done at the last moment. What I have been working on here is to get a balance — keep some of the improvisation which enables you to get things done quick, and allows for more flexibility, but introduce a clear planning process as well.

Understanding this has not been too difficult — like it would be for people coming from Europe for example, where everything is clearly planned out. In South America too, you have unstructured processes, so I am using my previous experience to get it on track. I think that it will take some time, maybe a year or more, but we will get to a point where important projects and events are planned well in advance.

You need to remember also that India is not a place where you raise your voice when there is a disagreement. We Chileans can be loud when excited, but here it might be interpreted as being aggressive. That’s a totally different perspective and I need to keep the volume down during meetings even when I’m excited.

Working here gives you a high in a way — you see excited young people with big dreams, and working to achieve them. My father was a school principal, and that was surely a middle class upbringing. With that came values that have stood by me. And I used to dream too, like the young people here — of being successful. It is a good time to be here as the economy transforms and to be on top of the wave. I can relate to the aspirations, and I can contribute better.

I like talking to my retailers myself. Often I walk down a road and speak to them. Language is often not a barrier — I can speak English and most of them can communicate in that language. Building a good supply chain here is of paramount importance and it is clearly more challenging here. In Chile and Peru, Coca Cola has been present for the last 35 years or so, and here we just entered in 1992 and are building up from there. My upbringing in the culture that I said, and exposure to working there, has made it easier for me to understand my customers and other stakeholders.

After all the hard work through the week, I drive home Friday evening quite relaxed. All of us — my three daughters and wife — get together on weekends. I love cooking, especially Italian. I love the Indian way of cooking lentils — in Chile it was boring, but here it is far more innovative. I also love the fish here — it tastes fine. We are a lot into barbeques.

Sometimes I have my team over and cook for them. It’s a great way to know them, and for them to know me. Other times, we have Indian friends over — it is easy to make friends here as people love conversation and welcome you into their way of life. That again is similar to how we are in Chile.

Some weekend nights not all of us are at home — my eldest daughter, now 17, sometimes goes partying and I drive her to the place, and back home late at night. I guess that’s another change I have gotten used to! I wanted my children to experience different cultures at an early age, and now I see they have friends here who are a mix of various nationalities and cultures. This is great for growing into a broad-minded individual who can accept differences and work with them.

Some weekends are spent travelling. Recently I took a Friday off and we all went to Shimla. My eldest daughter has gone trekking in the Himalayas, and then we all went to Kerala. It feels you are in different countries in each of these places, such is the diversity. Gradually, I am travelling to more places within India and that too has been a great experience to understand the milieu of cultures here. It’s simply amazing, something you don’t see back home.

I was a regular at riding mountain bikes. Cycling for 20 kilometres was regular. I plan to do that here to stay fitter. My family also loves biking and we have got all our stuff here. We plan to go on a biking expedition shortly! Even earlier than that, I plan to come biking to office. The distance from Vasant Vihar in Delhi, where I live, to Gurgaon is not much really.

There is much more to do here, both at work and in life. This is an exciting place at an exciting time.

(As told to Anirvan Ghosh)

(This story appears in the 17 June, 2011 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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