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Therese Gearhart

COSTA RICA - Industry

Present in Costa Rica since 1920

President, The Coca-Cola Company Latin Center

Bio

Therese Gearhart is President of the Coca-Cola Company’s Latin Center business unit. She is responsible for operations in 30 countries spanning from Ecuador to Bermuda. Previously, she was President of the company’s Southern Africa business unit based in Johannesburg with responsibility for company operations in South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Gearhart has over 25 years of international experience in general management, marketing, and sales. She joined The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta in 1998 as Director of Learning Strategy for the Latin America Group. Between 2001 and 2006, she held positions in the North America Food Service Division as Region Vice President, Central Region, and Vice President of Marketing. In 2006, Gearhart was appointed to General Manager of Central America. She also has served as Group Marketing and Commercial and Customer Director for the Eurasia and Africa Group, based in Istanbul. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Central Florida and a master’s from the American Graduate School of International Management in Arizona.

"Because the Coca-Cola Company produces locally in every country through franchise bottlers, that makes us one of the most important partners in any country in terms of employment."

What is the importance of Costa Rica for Coca-Cola and your current position in the country?

We have been here since 1920. Because the Coca-Cola Company produces locally in every country through franchise bottlers, that makes us one of the most important partners in any country in terms of employment. We are embedded and invested in Costa Rica, having been here almost a century. Costa Rica is our headquarter hub for our Latin Center region from where we manage 31 countries, including the Caribbean, Central America, and the northern part of South America. Costa Rica, also offer us highly skilled bilingual talent. Furthermore, our concentration plant, from where we export to the Caribbean, Central America, and other countries, is also proudly located in Costa Rica since 1962. As we transform into a total beverage company, we will continue to deliver the products Costa Ricans love and contribute to the country’s economic growth with our value chain partners.

How do you rate Costa Rica as a place to be headquartered in?

From a large import/export perspective, we focus on local production. We make more of an impact to the local economy. We try to procure all our core ingredients locally, so our impact for Costa Rica is truly felt here. Our broader business and the entire value chain starts with growers, who grow what we procure, like sugar cane. We try to be everywhere and available, and we have a huge footprint in terms of trucks, warehousing, and the whole sales, distribution, and logistics arm.

Regarding your impact on the community, how do you help raise awareness of consuming high-sugar products like Coca-Cola?

People around the world have been enjoying our beverages for 130 years because they love the taste of Coca-Cola. As a company, it is important to us to ensure that consumers have a variety of choices to help them manage their sugar and calorie intake. That is why we offer a wide variety of great tasting beverages with reduced, low, or no, sugar and calories. For example, last month we launched Fanta 2.0, which now contains fruit juice, fewer calories, and no added sugar. As a total beverage company, we are working to improve the recipes of our products as well as introducing new products to give our consumers the best possible choices. Our commitment to the well-being of consumers is also why many of our beverages come in small packages. We also provide clear information on how much sugar and how many calories are in our beverages, so that people can make informed choices about what makes sense for them and their families. We truly believe that the key to a balanced lifestyle is to consume a variety of food and beverages in moderation. Like all food and beverages, soft drinks with sugar can be part of a balanced lifestyle as long as people don’t consume them in excess. In addition, we’re evolving our long-term business strategy to become a total beverage company to give people the drinks they want and the information they need to make truly informed choices.

Costa Rica is one of the world’s most advanced green and sustainable countries. Are there Coca Cola programs that are adjusted to the green vocation of Costa Rica?

We have several programs that help the environment. We have important projects regarding the protection of water. As a fact all the beverages we produce in Costa Rica are water neutral since 2016, meaning we restore back to nature the same amount of water that our product have. In packaging, for more than 15 years, in collaboration with Coca-Cola FEMSA we have the Misión Planeta project where we recycle plastic bottles. We also have other projects regarding the environment for example we participate in the Coastal Cleanup Day and Reforestation Day, among others.

What is your general opinion on the FMCG sector in Costa Rica?

As leaders in the beverage industry, we know that people’s tastes and preferences are changing, and we have decided to change to do more to meet these demands. We are making our low sugar and sugar free drinks more visible and easy to find, and we are bringing many more drinks to more people in more places including options such as organic tea, coconut water, ready-to-drink coffee, juice, and purified water.

What challenges have you faced in Costa Rica?

The biggest challenge was last year, with Costa Rica and a lot of global economies struggling. In Costa Rica we face the normal challenges of operating while trying to manage costs and facing pressure from competitors. As a business, we know how to manage these challenges and remain committed to doing business in Costa Rica.

What are your main sources of growth in the coming year?

Our long-term business strategy is to offer people around the world the drinks they want. We are reducing the amount of sugar and calories in many of our brands. We are offering more new drinks that provide benefits like nutrition and hydration. We are manufacturing smaller and more convenient containers so that people can control sugar consumption more easily. And we are providing the information that people need to make truly informed decisions.

Do you have innovations or programs that help you motivate your employees here in Costa Rica?

Anything the company offers is available for all of our talent in Costa Rica. We are primarily a marketing company, so everything we do is designed to get people to think differently and to be constantly innovative.

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