The kick start of a career that has traveled the globe, largely via one company over three decades, can be traced to one celebratory family trip. It pulled a lever on a professional journey for Sarah Beth Brown 89MBA that she didn’t foresee coming.
As her family celebrated her sister’s recent graduation from Duke University Law School with a trip that included a stop in Wimbledon, England, Brown’s parents suggested it was time for their other daughter to go back and pursue a graduate degree.
“They encouraged me to look at it,” she recalled.
The suggestion was to move on from her budding career in the medical equipment sales industry — at the time-based in Houston, Texas — where she worked for Johnson & Johnson and Bayer Laboratories. Brown wasn’t initially focused on an MBA degree, and with her father, John, who is chairman emeritus of Stryker Corporation and previously worked in senior leadership with Bristol-Myers Squibb in New Jersey and New York, she saw promise in medical sales. An MBA, or another path in the business world, was not something Brown had on her radar.
Yet as she discussed the possibility more, including building on her finance degree background from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, she settled on the notion of a great opportunity ahead. Within six months, Brown applied, had an interview with then-Dean Al Hartgraves, and decided to enter the full-time MBA program.
“It was really the encouragement from my family, their support and then my subsequent research in applying and deciding on the great school of Emory,” she said.
Brown, in 2019, celebrates her 30-year anniversary with The Coca-Cola Company where she works as global customer director. She still recalls aspects of her Goizueta education that are active in her work today.
That Goizueta education included group projects, study groups, faculty engagement and an internship with Canada Dry Corporation that offered an experience learning the consumer-packaged goods and beverage industry.
“Group projects really do lend themselves to being invaluable in corporate America,” she said. “Because success is really not of an individual. It’s those that surround you, all of your stakeholders, from customers, to bottlers, to team members, to cross-functional. It’s lent itself very well to my career path and success at The Coca-Cola Company, especially being on the global side.”
As a franchise organization, Coca-Cola works with independent bottlers closely to serve customers, constituents and stakeholders.
“That’s something that’s very valuable, and something I learned at my time at Emory,” she said.
Brown, who was recently elected to Emory University’s Board of Trustees, joined The Coca-Cola Company in 1989 and is responsible for supporting the company’s ongoing partnership and business growth with U.S.-based food service and on-premise customers doing business and expanding internationally.
She credits her longevity with the company to being willing to listen and then execute a framework, especially with a pair of special projects which fueled her career.
One was a finance-driven sales project, based in Dallas, related to reimbursement to customers. It combined her undergraduate, MBA and medical sales experience. The other special project was at the headquarters in Atlanta where, in 1999, Brown was assigned to lead a project team to build a sales training program that began domestically but soon expanded across the company globally.
“It’s critical to listen,” she said. “A lot of times, in fact, with both of these projects, it was really more of an idea of a framework, and then ‘Sarah, go make this work.’ While key stakeholders were identified, really the definition of the project, the scope, the key business indicators, the picture of success, the outcome, all of that was incumbent upon me to determine.”
Brown continues to stay involved with Goizueta, as she serves on Dean Erika James’ Goizueta Advisory Board and regularly participates as a panel judge for class projects. The John and Rosemary Brown Family Foundation established a Sarah Beth Brown MBA Scholarship and Sarah Beth Brown Professorship at Goizueta. At Coca-Cola, she mentors younger colleagues with advice about how to navigate their career interests and pursue goals to grow in the company.
“I think my longevity is because I’ve had the opportunity to do new things, work on different projects across the global system, work with key stakeholders, with senior leadership, all along the way, and always adding value with the customers and internal colleagues,” she said.