Even before she joined The Coca-Cola Company in 1992, Marie Quintero-Johnson had a strong fascination with the brand––so much so that Coca-Cola was one of the only places she could envision herself working after graduate school.
“At the time, Roberto Goizueta was the CEO. He was Cuban, so he was an icon to the Cuban community,” says Quintero-Johnson, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba. “I grew up drinking way too much Diet Coke––well, I don’t know if too much is ever a thing, but a lot of Diet Coke. So I always had a great affinity for the company.”
And it’s no surprise, as Coca Cola is the import of choice throughout Latin America. The average Mexican, for example, drinks more than seven hundred cups of Coca-Cola a year—nearly double what Americans drink.
Beyond her genuine love of Coca-Cola’s products, Quintero-Johnson appreciates the global reach of the beverage corporation. As head of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) for the past two decades, she has played an undeniable part in both extending that reach and evolving the company’s business strategies to align with ever-changing markets the world over.
Before landing at Coca-Cola, Quintero-Johnson studied accounting, international business, and French at Georgetown University. When she realized that public accounting was not for her, she returned to school, earning her MBA from the University of Virginia.
It was during her graduate studies that she first connected with Coca-Cola on a professional level. “They needed someone who spoke Spanish to intern in their finance area,” she says. “I started my journey with Coca-Cola working in financial services, supporting a Latin America team.”
Quintero-Johnson’s early experiences at Coca-Cola exposed her to a variety of areas across the finance function. She handled management reporting at first and then pivoted, first to treasury and ultimately to M&A. After a few years as executive assistant to the CFO, she stepped into her current role as vice president and director of global M&A, insights, and real estate.
“I’ve been in my role for twenty years, which sounds like an extraordinary period of time, but we’ve had the opportunity over that period to evolve the strategy of the company,” Quintero-Johnson says. “I’ve been able to support that shift in strategy through my role in M&A, which has allowed me to keep learning about not only the global world in which we live and all things digital and all things sustainability but also the evolving portfolio of the Coca-Cola Company.”
One major evolution was Coca-Cola’s decision in 2000 to become a total beverage company, no longer limiting itself to sparkling drinks. “We had to learn how to identify brands outside of sparkling and how to identify which ones were going to create value for Coke,” Quintero-Johnson explains. She led that effort from an M&A perspective. “Fifty percent of our current portfolio is made up of brands that we acquired,” she notes.
Furthermore, Quintero-Johnson has facilitated Coca-Cola’s increasing investment in sustainability practices and digital capabilities. “We continue to evolve our M&A priorities based on consumer preferences and on where the industry is moving, in order to remain ahead of the curve in terms of competitiveness,” she emphasizes. “We’re very conscious of providing portfolios that meet the needs of local consumers and building capabilities or operating models that make sense for each market.”
Her work at Coca-Cola keeps Quintero-Johnson plugged into the world at large, but she places just as much value on what’s happening closer to home. Thinking back to her own childhood in the tight-knit Cuban community of Miami, she embraces her Hispanic heritage in all areas of her life.
“I have beautiful twin girls who are fourteen years old. They know their Cuban grandmother and great-grandmother, so they’ve had the benefit of that history, and they share my passion and fire for the Hispanic and Cuban identity,” she elaborates.
At Coca-Cola, Quintero-Johnson has always been unapologetically herself. She cosponsors the company’s Hispanic business resource group and dedicates herself to supporting and uplifting Hispanic talent within the organization. Even as she encourages rising leaders to work hard, she urges them first and foremost to recognize their own priorities––and prioritize their own happiness. “I always tell people that your work should fit into your life; your life shouldn’t fit into your work,” she adds.
Quintero-Johnson gives the same advice to her daughters, who have witnessed their mother exercise her faith and resilience in her personal life as well as her career. “Whether you have an accent or you don’t have an accent, whether you have a family of twenty or you have a family of one, you have to bring your whole self to work,” she says. “The fabulous thing about Coke is that it’s always allowed me to do that, which is a good thing because I wouldn’t know how to do it any other way.”