Sharon Bevis-Hoover is not fazed by the fact that she is starting her new job as director of IT transformation at Coca-Cola on 1 April. As London-based Europe Group CIO for the world's most famous drinks maker since 2007, she has already proved she is no fool.
Muhtar Kent, who became Coca-Cola's chief executive last year, wants the company to sharpen its competitive edge. That ambition, says Bevis-Hoover, has spawned a number of priority IT projects. She is returning to Coca-Cola's Atlanta head office to take charge of IT change aimed at supporting transformation in the rest of the company.
"I will be looking to see how the IT function globally needs to transform itself in order to continue bringing value to the company," she says.
The experiences she has accumulated in her career make her an ideal choice for the post. And that career is also packed with lessons which other IT professionals could take on board if they fancy themselves as high-flying IT professionals in a famous international company.
Get a head-start
The daughter of a university professor in maths and IT, Bevis-Hoover was destined for a computing career. "I was playing with computers when they went ching, ching, ching," she jokes.
She got into computing during her own college years studying economics and mathematics when a local bank came recruiting for an employment programme.
Bevis-Hoover worked part-time during term and full-time during the holidays so that when she graduated she already had nearly three years' IT experience - putting her ahead of the pack of new graduates seeking IT jobs.
But it is how she used that head-start to build her career where the most valuable lessons lie. After three years gaining a solid grounding in programming and systems analysis at Trusco Data Systems, she became an IT contractor.
It was, she admits, partly a lifestyle choice. And why not? "I wanted to be able to travel and scuba dive. The advantage of contracting was that it was based on assignments."
But her decision was about more than just having a great lifestyle.
"Contracting was fascinating because I got to work in lots of different industries. I saw many different technologies and met many different people. It was perfect."
The first couple of years in contracting took her round US corporate behemoths such as General Electric and Kimberly-Clark, providing a fascinating insight into how large organisations work.
Bevis-Hoover argues that a spell in contracting helps somebody new to IT find out what they want from their career.
"If you join a company straight from university, the risk is that you see only one company's view of the world," she says. "When you go contracting, you gain a variety of experiences so that you can look at a number of different organisations and business models and learn about what you would like to do."
It means that when you start to build a career in a company, you have a broader range of experiences to draw on, she says. And, as Bevis-Hoover's own career testifies, it may even help you to find the organisation in which you want to build your career.
Her first brush with Coca-Cola was through a contracting assignment. She proved her worth in this project and it led on to more. She ended up working in a wide variety of contracting roles at Coca-Cola for seven years.
Prove your worth
There is an important lesson here, too. Organisations like to retain people who prove useful to them. Demonstrate that you can add value and the terms of trade between you, as an employee, and your potential employer change. It is a lesson that could be critical as the recession bites deeper. Those who are adding the most value in the IT function will not be joining the queue at the Job Centre.
After seven years working as a contractor, Bevis-Hoover accepted a staff post within Coca-Cola. She became a senior IS account manager responsible for running a compliance team. She says she decided to sign up with Coca-Cola at that point in her career because she needed a new challenge.
She recalls, "I felt that I had demonstrated that I could run a project, that I could do change management, that I could automate business processes and even improve them. But what I was not doing in my contracting role was a lot of people management. I was managing people on projects but not from a broader administrative and organisational point of view."
The ability to run a team - in fact, to lead a team - is a key skill for any IT professional aiming for the top of a big company. Managers deliver results by harnessing the combined skills of their teams.
It was not long before Bevis-Hoover was proving her value inside Coca-Cola, just as she had done outside as a contractor. Promotions came regularly every few years, a sure sign that her bosses were impressed by what she was delivering.
There are key milestones in any career, although they may seem like milestones only when looking back. At the time, they appear as challenges. One of Bevis-Hoover's milestones came in 2005 when she became IT director for Coca-Cola's Iberia division. "It was my first move from the corporate centre to a field organisation," she says. "Most corporate centres get a bit disconnected from the way a company achieves its success in the field.
"Being closer to the actual operation in any organisation is a tremendous learning experience. Even if you have a conceptual awareness, there is nothing like getting closer to gain a better sense of reality."
Working in Iberia was an exciting opportunity to work in a different culture. "It is important to be sensitive when working in a new culture," she advises. "There is a lot to be learned from different ways of doing things."
Bevis-Hoover's success in the Iberian division made her a natural choice when Coca-Cola needed a new CIO for its Europe Group, covering 29 countries, in 2007. In the two years she has been in post, she carried out a restructuring plan for the IT function and brought it closer to the rest of the business. Now she is being called on to weave her IT transformation magic on Coca-Cola's global IT.
One quality shines through in Bevis-Hoover's career and she sums it up like this, "I love change."
In a world that is changing faster than ever before (and not always for the better), a willingness - even an eagerness - to embrace change will increasingly mark out IT professionals destined for the most senior posts.
"Some of us seem to enjoy change for change's sake," says Bevis-Hoover. "There are others that need to know why it is necessary to change. What that means is that when you are leading change in an organisation, you need to paint the big picture. You need to spell out the reasons for change and the benefits that will flow from it."
It is a technique that you can apply to yourself if you are fearful of change, suggests Bevis-Hoover. "Think very deliberately about what would be the benefits of making the proposed changes on your own career and life."
As transformation director of Coca-Cola, Bevis-Hoover will work from the company's headquarters in Atlanta.
In her role as CIO of the EU group, Bevis-Hoover headed an internal team of 52 people working from eight European locations.
Routine tasks such as service desk, back-office operations and some application production support are managed by internal and external service providers.
CV: Sharon Bevis-Hoover
1981: Leaves university in the US with economic and mathematics degree and takes a job as a computer programmer/analyst with Trusco Data Systems, part of Trust Company Bank.
1984: Starts working as a computer consultant, initially for General Electric Professional Services Company, then other US-based firms.
1985: Takes on first consulting assignment with Coca-Cola. In the next seven years handles technical, procurement, legal and human resources projects.
1992: Joins staff of Coca-Cola in the US as senior IS account manager, initially working on compliance projects.
1994: Begins a series of increasingly senior jobs with Coca-Cola: IS account group manager, programme director of the technical division and science division, programme director for business systems and information infrastructure.
2002: Appointed director, application portfolio for innovation, science and quality, then moves to take application portfolio directorships first for finance and corporate support, and then finance, HR and shared services.
2005: Moves to Spain to become IT director of Coca-Cola's Iberia division. Leads major change programme.
2007: Appointed CIO of the Europe Group of Coca-Cola and implements major restructuring.
2009: Takes up post as global transformation director for Coca-Cola.