Congratulations to Jack Pelo, President & Chief Executive Officer at Swire Coca-Cola, USA on being honored for “Lifetime Achievement” at the 2017 Utah Business CEO of the Year honorees.
Read more about all of the 2017 CEO of the Year honorees.
Jack Pelo has been CEO of Swire Coca-Cola for the past 20 years, but his association with the company extends back into his childhood. Pelo’s father owned a small Coca-Cola franchise in Washington, and Pelo worked in the business while in high school and college. Early in his career he worked as a certified public accountant, but came back to the Coca-Cola business when his father began thinking about retirement.
The family business was eventually sold to Swire Coca-Cola, and Pelo began working his way up the management ranks there. In 1996 he took the helm of Swire at a time of deep crisis for the company—the four senior leaders of Swire were onboard a small aircraft that crashed, killing its eight passengers. As the new CEO, Pelo helped the company heal and move past the traumatic situation.
Most recently, Pelo has led a period of rapid and extreme growth for the company. For most of its history, Swire Coca-Cola grew slowly and methodically. But three years ago, the company had an opportunity to expand when Coca-Cola moved from company-held franchises to an exclusive independent bottler approach.
By the end of 2017, the company “will have grown by a factor of three or four times. We’ve gone from 1,700 employees to about 6,200 employees, and the population served has increased about three and a half times. So it really is exciting to be part of an organization that is growing that fast,” says Pelo. “To expand at this rate and at this magnitude was very challenging, so we thought long and hard about if this was the right thing to do.”
Among the challenges that came alongside growth was an imperative to integrate the new team members into Swire’s tight-knit culture. Furthermore, an expanding organization calls for managers to take on ever-increasing leadership roles. “People are asked to, in a way, step out of their comfort zone,” says Pelo.
The key to effective leadership, he says, is simply to listen. “There are a lot of good ideas your associates have, your customers have, so it’s really important to go out and hear what they have to say. When it comes to making decisions, you have to get a lot of input. But to me it’s very important to get that input, analyze it, and then make the decision and move on, because nothing is worse than people being uncertain, and I think you need to provide direction.”
Pelo has brought his decades of leadership experience to the American Beverage Association, where as chair, he has helped transform the industry. Susan Neely, CEO of the American Beverage Association, says Pelo oversaw the implementation of a groundbreaking initiative to reduce the calories in beverages sold in schools. “Leading by example, Jack inspired competitors and fellow Coke bottlers to deliver on the pledge to transform the beverage landscape in schools,” says Neely. “The result was an astonishing 90 percent fewer calories from beverages shipped to schools.”
In addition to his work with the American Beverage Association, Pelo has served on the board or held leadership roles with the Salt Lake Chamber, United Way of Salt Lake, The Waterford School, American West Heritage Center, Juvenile Diabetes Research Center, the University of Utah President’s Association and many others.