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Coca Cola Japan CEO talks about USF MBA

Tampa, FL (May 10, 2013) — Coca Cola Japan CEO Michael Coombs likes to think of himself as a student in the university of life.

Michael Coombs

"In many ways, that's where learning truly begins," he said.

However, Coombs received some of his business knowledge in the classroom as well as on the job: as an MBA student at USF's program in France 20 years ago.

"I am always proud to tell people where I got my MBA," said Coombs, who is a native of South Africa but has lived in Japan for the past nine years. "I have a great debt of gratitude to USF. It was a very enriching experience."

Heading up a $3 billion company in one of Coca Cola's growing markets, Coombs said the MBA gave him an academic perspective on things he was already learning in the business world.

"When you work for a very large company, you tend to be very inward focused, and your universe tends to be within the company," he said. "The MBA gave me the opportunity to look at the business from a different vantage point. It brought structure and context into my career."

The MBA program in France was a two-year partnership with the EDC Paris business school with classes taught by USF faculty, and it was an Executive MBA-type schedule with programs in French and English. Coombs calls it an "MBA with a twist."

Coombs became close with Marketing Professor Paul Solomon during his time in the program, and still visits him when he is in the U.S.

Solomon said he stayed in touch with several students from the program, which taught one cohort of about a dozen students over two years, but has stayed closest with Coombs over the two decades since.

"He was always a leader within the class," Solomon said. "He was an excellent student, and he has always been a hard worker."

In his role as CEO, Coombs runs the largest bottling company in Japan, and 965,000 vending machines. He said people are always surprised to find out that Coke is only around 20 percent of the company's sales: the top selling Japanese products are Georgia Coffee, a ready-to-drink coffee, and a line of teas.

Despite the high-profile challenges and rewards of running a portion of an international company, Coombs said the part of his job he most enjoys is getting to serve in a mentoring role to others and helping in their professional development. Coombs has worked for Coca Cola for more than 20 years in various international locations, from France to Turkey to Japan.

"I love watching people grow and develop capability," he said.