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5 Questions with Jeffery Tobias Halter

Saturday, July 3, 2010  
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Director, Diversity Leadership Strategy
Coca-Cola Company USA

"The purpose of diversity today is about making money.”

Jeffery Tobias Halter is co-chair of NEW’s 2011 Multicultural Workforce Conference and director of diversity leadership strategy at The Coca-Cola Company. In this role, he manages the integration of the company’s strategies regarding diversity in relationship to the marketplace, the community and the workplace. Halter is author of
Selling to Men, Selling to Women, which explores gender communication in the sales process. A passionate advocate in the development of women in leadership, he sits on the national advisory boards for Women’s Food Service Forum and the National Society for Diversity in Sales & Marketing. Halter also serves on the Simmons Business School’s Business Advisory Board.

Why is the NEW Multicultural Conference important to you?

I’m so passionate about the conference because while organizations have started to get the importance of diversity initiatives, there is no sense of urgency. There is no cognition about the speed of change going on outside the workplace, such as the changing consumer base and shrinking talent pool. Organizations are moving from an understanding level accelerating to an advocacy role. My hope is this Multicultural Workforce Conference will be a catalyst to drive a sense of urgency. Similarly, the conference is evolving from being workplace-focused to bringing an integrated mindset to organizations. We need integrated strategies that marry the workplace, the community and the marketplace. Diversity in most organizations is incredibly silo-ed. It’s great that we see multicultural marketing and people-focused programs out there, but if a company doesn’t have a diversity leadership mindset in all business functions, it is not maximizing the opportunity.

How do you see your role as co-chair of NEW's Multicultural Workforce Conference?

My goal is to bring a total diversity leadership mindset to the event. The conference historically has been primarily workplace focused. Now we are evolving that to include more marketing and, potentially, community elements. While the workplace will be a critical focus of the event, our hope is to encourage a "business/marketplace” mindset into all diversity/human resource practitioners. It is critical they are steeped in the business case for diversity so that they can effectively drive the organization’s agenda. Additionally we want to attract line leaders and multicultural marketing leaders. Success in diversity today is when the chief marketing officer and the chief diversity officer have shared business metrics and a shared diversity leadership mindset.

Why is this conference important to the cpg/retail industry?

We have a saying at Coke, "The purpose of diversity today is about making money.” This is not a "nice to do.” It is a business imperative. We still need workforce practices to build an organization that can see and seize those opportunities, but at the end of the day it is about driving top-line revenue growth through selling more products to multicultural consumers. There also is an element that doesn’t get as much discussion, and that is "engagement.” We know that top-line growth, with this economy, will be tough for the next few years. We won’t have the big double-digit growth we did in the 1990s and early 2000s. Every organization is struggling with operating effectiveness. Operating effectiveness is the same as engagement. If we have a highly engaged workforce, we are getting good productivity.

High-performing companies are at 80 percent engagement/productivity. This means even in the best companies in an eight-hour workday your best people are putting in 6.4 hours of highly engaged work. If you have a workforce that is not engaged, with just 40 to 50 percent productivity, which research says is most companies, you are getting maybe four good hours of work in an eight-hour day. Engagement isn’t just "make everyone happy.” For instance, Hispanics and African-Americans often talk about leading dual lives -- being one person outside of work and then this other "corporate person” at work. What as companies are we losing because of this? Too often, we don’t talk about that as a function of profitability, when it is.

How would you characterize the cpg/retail industry in terms of their commitment tomulticultural diversity?

I would say it is mixed. Some cpg’s and some retailers really get it. From a consumer products maker standpoint, we are seeing some of the best in class setting the bar very high -- companies like Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson. I recently went to a major food industry tradeshow. In the workshops and breakout sessions, most of the sessions were led by senior leaders of leading retailers. When I look at just the visual representation, I see the major retailers represented by bunch of senior level, mature white men. Now, as I am a mature white male myself, I can say this and not get in trouble, but where is the representation of women or minorities in senior ranks? If I am in the audience and I am a woman or minority, do I see anyone that looks like me? Do I think I have a future in this industry? How are retailers going to change the dialogue and recruit women and minorities to work in these organizations?

This challenge is being exacerbated by the new composition of new entries into the workforce. Today 75 percent of new entries in the workforce are women and minorities. If you dial down the pipeline and look at the succession planning, the people in the middle and bottom levels look significantly different than those at the top. One consumer-facing company that really gets it is McDonalds. They have made no secret of saying they are leading with multicultural in all media, not to the exclusion of Anglos, but they test first to African Americans and Hispanics, and then the general market, which they would say is multicultural. They have seen great success in the last four years in a very hard economic time. How can others not see that and say, "Gosh, maybe they are on to something?”

What has been one of Coca-Cola Company’s most successful multicultural initiatives?

Our biggest multicultural/general market initiative was our World Cup campaign. Four years ago, it was a marketing initiative by our Hispanic marketing group, involving a few mainline supermarkets in Texas and Florida, but primarily focused on small stores where traditionally Hispanics shopped. This year, we took the approach the World Cup is cross-cultural and led all of our supermarket initiatives for our second quarter with the World Cup theme. It was a risky move. People could have said "That’s about South Africa” or "We don’t care about American soccer.” But the execution and sales lift we saw were comparable to our Summer Olympics promotion. We were stunned. The numbers were overwhelming. Regardless of where you live there is a coming together of cultures. I don’t know that most companies are really grasping that change.

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