Coca-Cola Business Leadership
What is “good” business leadership in a female leader?

The normative ethical concept of "good" business leadership is an interesting question as increasing numbers of women enter senior positions in global organizations. The groundbreakers set standards for not only women but also men - their leadership style directly influences the livelihood of the people they lead and the profitability of the company.

For example, let's look at the leadership ethic of Mary Minnick, President of Marketing, Strategy, and Innovation for Coca-Cola, within the context of Hofstede’s cultural index of MAS (Masculinity Index).

Minnick’s recent business leadership in Japan overseeing Asian countries, and now globally (based in Atlanta), has informed and been informed by her gender. The ethics surrounding female business leaders, and the transferability of these ethics, is central to today’s construct of global business conduct. Is her “masculine” work ethic transferable to other female leaders in the same global regions – but with better acceptance – given time?

MAS Index

Hofstede states MAS as being “entirely unrelated to national wealth.” , showing American national culture scoring 62 on MAS (a high rank of 19) . Japan scoring 95 (2nd to Slovakia), China scoring 66 (rank 11-13), Hong Kong scoring 57 (rank 25-27, lower MAS than the US), Taiwan scoring 45 (rank 43-45, even lower). According to Hofstede, the US is one of the societies which is “masculine”: “...when emotional gender roles are clearly distinct: men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success, whereas women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life.”

Minnick’s leadership characteristics are, per MAS, quite against her gender’s prescribed role, whether perceived by businessmen in Asia or the US. The business leadership choices Minnick has made for the growth of Coke have been colored by how not only Asian but also how American and Australian (score 61, rank 20, right after the US) businessmen experience working with a female leader who demonstrates the business ethics of a traditional male leader.

Profile of the Leader

Review: Mary sounds like a real monster. She seems almost proud of the way she treats employees and disappointed that she couldn't use "anger" in her management style in Asia. Surely, she can get the job done and still be a person?
Nickname: Shazam
The quote above is a BusinessWeek reader’s response to its August 7th, 2006 cover article, “Queen of Pop,” implying that Minnick, in her high-MAS leadership qualities, has somehow made herself less of a “person.” Throughout, the article describes Mary Minnick as:

blunt, impatient, knocking the soda giant’s staid, cola-centric culture on its ear, worldly, smart, speak[ing] rapid-fire, frank, brusque, clout and political savvy, ha[ving] a stirring vision, corporate agitator, innovative, spunk[y], resourceful, [having a] full-frontal management [style], [not bothering] to ingratiate herself with staff , [someone who] doesn’t apologize, raising the bar, been right to try to shake things up, [one] not to celebrate, [doesn’t] spend a lot of time talking about why something is good...
These quotes reveal an executive who is driven to hard work and succeeding, having a pressing sense of time, possessing an internal gauge of innovation. She’s said of herself:

“I would say I have a rather impatient sense of urgency on just about everything,” “I tend to be quite discontented in general,” “I think I started to temper my management style in Japan. Because of the culture, you have to learn patience and a certain sense of decorum. They don’t appreciate anger and displays of emotion.”

The January 24th, 2006 issue of Fortune, describes Minnick :

She has been known as a tough and sometimes abrasive boss -- a burden, often unfair, that has been a handicap for many women leaders. "I've received coaching," she acknowledges. "It's not so much about softening as it is about being less intense and more balanced in my sense of urgency." It's a tricky balance to maintain. "Intensity has been a big contributor to my success," she adds. "A lot of times your greatest strength can be your weakness."

By 1997, Minnick was running Coke’s South Pacific group, covering Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, and all of the Pacific Islands. By early 2000, she had done so well that then-CEO Douglas N. Daft promoted her to head up all of Japan, where she made her mark on Coke, even as her leadership skills were highly tested by resistant Japanese businessmen. Some of these instigators wrote private letters to Daft, asking him to reassign her away from Tokyo. His response:

“This woman will be there longer than you. She has my full support.”

This great reinforcement of hierarchy, from the CEO of Coke giving the highest credibility mark to his designated lieutenant, was invaluable to Minnick’s positioning, allowing her to lead more effectively. The Japanese culture respects authority and autocratic decision-making (high PDI .) Innovation and product diversity were the twin sceptres of her tenure, launching innumerable products and watching the market data almost daily in partnership with 7-11 Japan. She also achieved a first: organizing Japan’s bottlers. She was also careful to always emphasize the uniqueness and innovativeness of Japanese culture. In 2002 she was promoted to head up all of Coke Asia. In 2005, she was promoted to her current position. Minnick had spent 10 years in Asia, primarily in Japan and Hong Kong.

Transferability of the Leader’s Ethic

The question of transferability of Minnick’s leadership and work style ethic would be more helpfully answered in terms of time rather than geography. The stereotypical “American” qualities are also “masculine” qualities – acceptable to most other cultures to some degree if demonstrated in a male business leader – very challenging for men to cope with in a female business leader.

A possible answer may lie in the evolution of the MNC itself, as it adapts best practices to increase competitiveness on the shifting sands of the global economy. Traditional feminine traits are, ironically, lending better organizational and talent management ethics to global business competitiveness. This trend should accelerate as the numbers of MNCs’ female CEOs increase. Both the US and Asian countries may evolve to a more equitable distribution of masculine/feminine gender roles in global business hopefully sooner in time. For the health of robust economies, gender neutral business leadership ethics would be the ideal to strive for.