Putting the fizz into finance transformation AccountingWEB a photo of a bottle of Coca-Cola next to a glass of coco-cola.
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Putting the fizz in finance transformation

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Mike Clark of Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, spoke to Neil Cutting about the iconic brand’s recent successful finance transformation journey.

10th May 2023
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Coca-Cola is one of the most recognisable brands in the world, with over 100bn litres of the carbonated beverage sold each year.

Behind the creation of Coca-Cola, and the other core brands in the portfolio including Diet Coke, Fanta, Sprite and Costa, is Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP), the world’s largest independent Coke bottler which has 33,000 employees, with 2,000 of those in its finance function. But while the label on the Coca-Cola bottle and the taste rarely changes, the finance function recently took steps to ensure the department remains effervescent.

Mike Clark has been with the company for over 12 years, moving up through the ranks from commercial finance director to VP finance and GB CFO to his current position of vice president of finance strategy and transformation.  

Driven by Coca-Cola Europacific Partner’s desire to not just be in the top quartile in terms of cost, but also in terms of performance, Clark took the organisation through a recent transformation project with the aim of building the finance function of the future. 

Catalyst for change

Starting about a year and half ago, Clark pinpointed three catalysts that forced the organisation to build a function fit for the future.

  1. The increased use of technology and the ways of working in the future
  2. Coming out of Covid and how the working practices have changed
  3. The acquisition of the Australian, Indonesian and New Zealand bottler, Coca-Cola Amatil, and the need to bring two finance functions together. 

These catalysts together created a perfect opportunity for Clark and the finance leadership team to “take a step back to look at our purpose, our vision, and our plans going forward as one combined team”.

Up until this point, the team had already done quite a lot towards the transformation agenda, but according to Clark, there was a tendency to say, “Oh, that needs doing, we’ll go and do it” rather than having an overall coherent plan. 

Fortunately, Clark said, there wasn’t anything that shouldn't have been done, but he questioned whether this expedient approach really had the holistic end in mind. It was time for a rebalance. “The transformation agenda had been principally focused on efficiency, whereas we wanted to bring in effectiveness and experience much more,” he explained.

Assess the gaps

To start the transformation journey, and to assess the current state of the finance function and where it needs to be, Clark and the team enlisted KPMG to carry out over 90 interviews with individuals from across the business. Half of these interviews were with the finance function and the other half were with business partners, the executive leadership team and the board of directors.  

In addition to the 90 interviews, the analysis also included a survey of the whole finance team and a sample of their business partners, and they spoke with a number of their peer organisations. 

From there KPMG and the finance transformation team identified five key themes of where they were and in addition to this, they carried out some benchmarking in terms of their current cost and effectiveness.

All of this information was summarised and played back to the finance leadership team in three two-to-three-hour long virtual sessions. Alongside this the team sought the views of some of their young leaders to get some multigenerational experience. Coming out of this extensive project, the team was able to define the finance function’s purpose, vision and a roadmap for the transformation. 

The group identified five workstreams, with the two areas that both the finance team and the stakeholders wanted to prioritise being people and technology. So the five pillars of the transformation were:

  • People: This covers areas such as capabilities, personal development career experience
  • Technology and process: This explores the finance technology strategy, covering SAP S/4HANA, planning and forecasting automation
  • Service delivery model: This focuses on how they should set up their operating and delivery model of the future
  • Sustainability: This stream considers how finance can take a leading role and upskill itself in sustainability
  • Business partner of the future: What’s their vision for that? What needs to change? 

Clark said that there was some natural overlap with some of these pillars. For example, the business partner of the future and sustainability will both require upskilling.

Clark said the role of business partner in the organisation was at around eight out of 10, but “If you do nothing, that eight will be six in five years’ time because the world moves fast.”

I have seen the role of business partner as a central theme in finance transformation projects with businesses looking for ways to reinvigorate the role. When I was working at Jacobs, the CFO liked the term co-pilot because people had heard partnering so much was his view that it almost became like background noise. 

Meeting the desired state

Asked what the end goal would look like, Clark simply responded: “We will never complete the task.”

A scary prospect, it may seem, but Coca-Cola Europacific Partners’ commitment to transforming its finance team for the future is one of continuous improvement. 

“There’s parts of it that we will complete,” he said. “But we will never get to the end. It needs to become at some point at the end of three years or so business as usual. But within those work streams, there’s a number of different sub-work streams that have deliverables as they get split into projects with their own schedules.”

Through undertaking this finance transformation project, Clark and the team have created a solid framework of work streams, projects or sub-work streams with defined deliverables over a period of time.

Although the eventual goal is for the transformation to become business as usual, the culture of continuous improvement isn’t going to go away. As Clark explained, it’s been ingrained into the team.

“If you look at what we’ve done over the past 10 years, it’s a continual, chipping away, to make ourselves better and more efficient and that will inevitably continue.”

Measure and manage transformation

Seeing how the culture of continuous improvement is so integral to the success of the project, it’s important to have some accountability so things don’t come off the tracks. Similar to a transformation steering group, Clark said that this responsibility lies with the series of leaders who manage the work streams.

“The aim is that it becomes more business as usual. We then have a plan by quarter for each of the work streams and a combined one, too,” he said.

The project is then overseen in quarterly blocks. “We have check-in at the beginning and check-in halfway through the quarter,” explained Clark. “The one at the beginning does a review of the previous quarter and looks forwards to the following quarter. Then we are either on track or off track and we will reallocate actions as we need to.”

Seeing as how the project transitioned from picking up transformations as they came to the holistic transformation programme, was there anything they would have done differently in hindsight?

“You don't need to be the expert on everything,” Clark said. “If you’re doing this type of transformation, your job is to coordinate, listen and to a large extent enable. People want to improve the business and your job is to get some of the roadblocks out of the way and let them do that.” 

If you work with boards and would like to be interviewed by Neil then please send Neil a DM or comment below. And if you’re inspired by this article and already demonstrating your excellence as an FD, enter the brand new Finance Director category in the Accounting Excellence Awards and, as a judge, Neil will be keen to see your entry.

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