Company Culture: Intangible but ever-present

Company Culture: Intangible but ever-present

We caught up with our HR Director Marina Gainova to discuss her career journey so far, her passion for people-development and the renewed focus placed on culture across the organisation.

HR Director Coca-Cola HBC Ireland and Northern Ireland HR Director Coca-Cola HBC Ireland and Northern Ireland

How did you ignite your passion for HR and people development?

I’m originally from the city, Nizyny Novgorod, 400 km from Moscow. Nizhny Novgorod used to be home to one of the 12 Coca‑Cola HBC plants in operation across Russia and, growing up, I always wanted to learn secret behind the world’s greatest brands!

After finishing university, I had an opportunity to join Coca‑Cola HBC as a Marketing Trainee. I completed the year-long programme and was fortunate enough to get a permanent job in Marketing.

I instantly fell in love with the great Coca‑Cola business. However, I kept reflecting on my studies as a linguist. I had trained to be a teacher of languages and always had a passion for supporting personal and professional development. 

When an opportunity arose within the HR function, I grasped the chance to combine my passions for Coca‑Cola HBC and Training and Development. I truly found my home in HR; working with commercial teams initially and then supporting a range of functions and teams to improve capability. I soon progressed to leadership and talent development.  

After a time, I was appointed Head of Internal Corporate University for the Russia business unit. This was my dream job. I had a team of 50 people and scope to truly impact the development and talent process across the country.

Was your path to success always smooth?

What I didn’t mention above is that I left Coca‑Cola HBC for a time. Before being appointed to the Corporate University, I moved to a leading pharmaceutical company. 

I really enjoyed this new challenge, but it was a difficult transition and a period of accelerated learning! Upon reflection I felt I had a lot of experience to bring from Coca‑Cola HBC but didn’t fully appreciate initially how much I had to learn. There were different business challenges, diverse markets, and new ways-of-working. However, I still attribute this experience as one that truly helped me to fast-track my career, and ultimately it enabled me to return to Coca‑Cola HBC with a renewed curiosity and attitude towards my own personal development.

While in the Corporate University, I also took a year for maternity leave and that time away from the business helped me to review my career ambitions. When I returned, I set new goals. I had an aspiration become a HR Director, but I recognised that I had some skills gaps and lacked some critical experience. 

This prompted me to take a side-step to become HR business partner for Support Functions and at the same time assume responsibility for HR Services team. This meant moving away from managing a large team to becoming a manager-of-self – and relearning on how to prioritize and manage time. 

With my new HR services hat on, I also had to step into a completely new territory that required a huge amount of technical knowledge. I also had to balance the new demands of work while considering my 12-month-old daughter back home.  It was a very challenging time, but it allowed me fast track my career progression.

The effort and determination paid off, and I was appointed HR manager for the Multon business unit, a juice business unit for Coca‑Cola HBC in Russia. After three years in that role, I was approached to move to Ireland to take the role of HR Director to gain more experience within a bigger business unit. That was another test of my openness to change, and my commitment to development. I wasn’t sure if my family would be able to join me initially, and I definitely knew that I would have to learn a lot about the business and the culture. But here I am, in the middle of my learning journey, and with the best intentions to support our business unit to develop a winning mindset and become the employer of choice.

So, to answer the question, no - the path to success was not always smooth and easy. The best piece of advice I could give to someone embarking on a career is to dream big! Get clarity what critical experiences can get you there and proactively seek for those experiences. On this journey it’s also important to stay curious and learn every day – from classrooms trainings, colleagues, other companies.

Coca‑Cola HBC Picture Conor McCabe Photography Coca‑Cola HBC Picture Conor McCabe Photography

What are your first impressions of the Irish team?

The Irish are warm and welcoming, and incredibly funny! I appreciate the sense of humour and the unique ability to laugh at themselves. This creates a wonderful work environment. We work hard, but we have fun, and we won’t take ourselves too seriously.

When it comes to talent, the island of Ireland business unit is on top! I look across the teams and see a wealth of experience. 

I’m particularly impressed by how people have forged their careers cross-functionally over the years. I haven’t seen that to the same extent in any other business unit within Coca‑Cola HBC. We have many examples of people starting in sales and progressing into marketing, supply chain, and ultimately some very senior roles within the business. Equally people here are not afraid to challenge themselves and learn more about the business, by moving cross-functionally. 

This is the great strength of the Irish team. A fantastic level of business acumen is evident across the organisation. It encourages greater collaboration, and ultimately better-quality decision making.

Let’s talk about company culture. Why is it so important to you?

Culture is so important. It’s intangible, but ever-present. Fundamentally, it determines how we all feel at work and our ability to achieve business goals. 

I’m so passionate about creating great workplace cultures, and I see the HR function as a gatekeeper for this, helping to support and nurture it.  

The role of HR is to help create the environment that enables us as a company achieve the strategy. I firmly believe that if the culture isn’t right, we will never achieve our goals – and it’s no fun to work for company like that! 

I also want us all to enjoy our work at Coca‑Cola HBC. It should be a place we look forward to coming to each day, where we meet equally engaged colleagues who we can learn from. 

We spend so much time in work and we need to feel a sense of purpose. I want to be proud to go home and tell my family about my job, and what I’ve accomplished as part of a team. Fundamentally, when I retire and look back on my career, I want to know that I made a positive impact on the world and leave this great business in a better shape than before.

How did you refresh your focus on culture and finalise your new CCHBC Culture Principles?

When I joined the Ireland and Northern Ireland business unit in July 2019, there was a lot of strategizing underway. Our team was mapping future 2025 goals and also working to deliver the shorter-term 2020 business plan. 

As a senior management team we recognised that our ambitions would only be realised if we had the right workplace environment and organisational mindset. 

But we also recognised that it was not the job of the senior management team to decide the culture, so we put the challenge to managers across the organisation. In December, more than 60 managers workshopped the concept and agreed the values and principles of culture that we would need to succeed in our strategy.

After the workshop, we distilled the messages. There was a period of feedback and refining, before agreeing on the six core culture principles that would enable us to step-change our performance as a team and feel better about our working lives.

We presented these to all employees at our company conference in February, where many people signed up to play their part. We’re now on a journey to embrace and live these principles every day.


What principles resonates most with you? How do you see this principle come to life every day?

The principle that resonates best is to be ‘Obsessively Curious’. As I mentioned, I changed roles to a new sector throughout my career. The experience was more challenging than I had expected. I think I had lost my passion and curiosity for embracing new ways of working, and learning new skills and processes. I had the attitude that the ‘Coca‑Cola HBC’ way was best. 

This was a mistake. Yes, I had experience, but there is always something new to learn. I needed to be humble and embrace the new organisation, which of course had lots to offer. 

This is true still of our own organisation. As market-leader, sometimes we can think that our way is best, but change is the only constant. By adopting an attitude of curiosity, we can learn from others; identify new solutions, new business opportunities and innovate to achieve success.  

This attitude can take people, careers and organisations to a new level. There is something new to learn at every point in your life, and we should all remember that!


What is your ambition for the year ahead?

My dream is that I will look back in a year’s time and everyone in our organisation will feel the benefits of a positive, high performing and dynamic culture. It’s felt cross-functionally, throughout management layers, and from Cork and Kerry to the North Coast.

Our people have a renewed sense of purpose and are living the values each day. We celebrate success, and belief in ourselves and our colleagues to achieve new goals. 

Fundamentally, I want to see every person in our organisation forging a success career; with new and exciting opportunities for development.