Interview: Bonnie Wurzbacher

This week’s interview features Bonnie Wurzbacher, Senior Vice President, Global Customer & Channel Leadership, The Coca-Cola Company. Bonnie began her career in 1984 as a national account executive at the Minute Maid division of The Company. Now, she is a passionate advocate for the role of ethical, sustainable business in advancing God’s purposes in the world and for women in leadership, which is what we talked to her about today.

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4word: You’ve said, “You don’t get meaning from your work, you bring meaning to your work.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

Bonnie: I first heard that phrase in a sermon years ago at our church, and it really struck a chord with me. I realized I had been searching for “meaningful” work, rather than understanding that all work is important to God. To better understand God’s purpose for business in this world, I began asking myself how my daily work honored God and others.

I had to go all the way back to Genesis 1: 27-28 to be reminded that we were actually created to participate in God’s agenda for this world! Eventually, I realized I had begun to think of my work, primarily, as a means to make a living while I served God elsewhere. If the place I spent the majority of my time wasn’t important to God, then what was? That’s what prompted me to begin looking at my work from God’s point of view and to learn how to honor Him and others through it.

4word: How do you apply this concept in your own job?

Bonnie: I used to think serving God in my work meant being ethical and sharing my faith. Yet, the company’s “code of conduct” required ethical behavior of everyone and, frankly, I could count on both hands how many spiritual conversations I had ever had at work. Was that all it was about? I eventually came to understand that we are also called to honor God in the actual product and the process of our work.

When I looked closely at my own company, I began to see that besides making and marketing refreshing, non-alcoholic beverages, it contributed to the sustainable, economic well-being of communities around the world. The Coca-Cola system generates almost 1 million jobs across 206 countries, and for every job they create, another 10 jobs are created indirectly in those communities. Besides the salaries and benefits from these jobs, they spend billions in local purchases of supplies, capital, dividends and taxes that fuel local economies. They also make meaningful contributions to the social and environmental well- being of the communities they serve: clean water, recycling and more.

Once I understood the difference my company made in the world, I could see how to be more intentional in bringing my abilities and experiences to my job. I also began to appreciate the huge sphere of influence and relationships I was exposed to each day and that my work was an important way to impact the world for good. Once I saw my work from that perspective and understood God’s purposes for it, I was able to see more clearly how to bring meaning to it.

4word: You have pointed out in previous interviews that women make up 50 percent of the workforce but that leadership roles in churches, businesses, politics, etc. don’t reflect this. How does this imbalance of women in the workforce vs. women in leadership roles affect society?

Bonnie: I see it primarily as a talent development opportunity. If an organization is not fully using the gifts and abilities of 50% of its workforce, that presents a problem. U.N. studies also show there is a direct correlation between almost every country’s GDP growth and the education level and workforce participation of their women. How can any organization perform to the best of its ability without fully leveraging its “human capital?” Simply put, having an organization’s leadership reflect its workforce means having better leaders, and having better leaders means having a better organization. I believe that many churches could and should be making a stronger contribution in this area.

4word: Why do you think women aren’t filling 50% of those leadership roles? What can today’s young, professional women do to change that?

Bonnie: There isn’t an easy answer to this one, but I think it comes down to a few, important things. First, women need to aspire (and be encouraged to aspire) to leadership roles and take their gifts seriously. They need to understand that their work is important to God and a meaningful way to serve Him. They need mentors and role models who will advise and support them as their careers take shape. If they marry, it should be to someone who admires and encourages their leadership skills. Having a husband who fully supports and appreciates his wife’s career – and is willing to take on more family responsibilities – is a very important piece to the puzzle. I have been most blessed in that regard!

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You've heard Bonnie's thoughts. Now it's your turn. How do you bring meaning to your job? And what about Bonnie's advice for young professional women on advancing in leadership: are you taking your gifts seriously? Is there someone in your life encouraging you to aspire to leadership roles? Let us know in the comments!