INSEAD Participant Interview

The game-changer: How Integrating Performance and Progress drives results across multiple fronts

Zoltan Syposs

Group QSE Director, Coca-Cola HBC

"Think very carefully about what you want to achieve and keep your goals firmly in mind. This is the kind of programme that can help you become a game-changer." says Zoltan Syposs, past participant of Integrating Performance and Progress.

You have enjoyed a long career with Coca-Cola in a variety of roles. How would you summarise your background?

I’m a scientist by training with a PhD in microbiology. On leaving university I moved into the food industry and was hired by Coca Cola in 2000, right at the time that the company was starting its total beverage journey. They needed someone who could bridge the complex scientific elements with the industry or business issues and people management. I spent a critical two years as a plant manager in Poland building these skills and experiences, before moving on to the role of EMEA technical manager and food safety director. My goal was to accede to a quality, safety and environment (QSE) leadership role within the company, which is something I accomplished after a challenging stint as supply chain manager in Eastern Europe. Here I built a deep understanding of manufacturing which is paramount to success in my current role of Group QSE and Research and Development Director. 

What led you to the Integrating Performance and Progress programme at INSEAD?

In my role I have to manage the day-to-day in terms of business performance, and I also have to meet a dual imperative to drive meaningful progress in areas like quality and sustainability. It’s challenging because you have to balance what the company wants to achieve under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility and at the same time you have to deliver results. The INSEAD programme caught my attention because it really addressed the everyday challenges that I face in my job. 

Were there specific areas of personal and professional development that you wanted to work on during the programme?

Coming from a scientific background coupled with hands-on operational leadership, I felt I wanted to develop a more strategic mindset. I needed to build the strategic leadership skills that would help me take my career to the next level, but without taking away from the practical skills that I’d built as a scientist and an industry practitioner working in the field. I’m very aware of the importance of balancing those dimensions: you can talk all you like about strategy and vision but without a concrete action plan those things are just a dream. 

With this programme I believed I had a real opportunity to learn – from faculty, from other industries and participants – and to re-think my business dilemmas in a more strategic way. I felt it would empower me to become a more strategic leader without losing the operational touch. 

Integrating Performance and Progress is built around the concept of business as a force for good. Did the programme meet your expectations in this sense?

Yes, it did, both in terms of the curriculum and the people that were invited to contribute and who represent a broad and colourful spectrum of investors. The experience was rich and interesting, and it also translated directly into frameworks and tools that I could then put to use in my day-to-day work. I continue to reflect very deeply on the concepts and content of the programme. I make the time and effort to re-read different chapters of the book that Professor Rangan gave us and I invariably find something I can take back to my organisation to support my business cases. For people in my position who have to “sell” progress – who represent, manage and drive progress – in the boardroom, and who are also charged with the pragmatic, hands-on delivery of performance, there is so much to learn. 

Is there something concrete that you are working on that demonstrates this?

Absolutely. Take the Coca-Cola World Without Waste packaging initiative. This is a complex, end-to-end solution and there’s no way within the company that just one department or group can manage it. Then there’s the same juggling act between building the goodwill and the progress mindset with delivering your annual, monthly or weekly results. The programme at INSEAD has helped me enormously to connect the dots and to be able to communicate to key stakeholders in a mature and effective way.

Another example is a project we’re leading in Nigeria, providing high-quality drinking water to people living around one of our plants. A long-standing dilemma here revolves around respecting the authority of the local municipality while empowering its people with the know-how and resources to provide clean water to citizens – and safeguarding the supply of water to our facilities at the same time. I have been able to develop a really tangible solution here, collaborating on infrastructure and engineering solutions with the local authorities to overcome problems. Integrating Performance and Progress has really helped me to reframe these problems and approach them from a variety of perspectives: from the CSR agenda and in terms of our own organisation and our partner’s needs.

What would you say is the main takeaway of the Integrating Performance and Progress programme?

I think it’s all there in the title. It’s a truly unique programme that helps you balance your CSR agenda and financial results in a really pragmatic way. The learning is built around the right levels of theory and highly relevant case studies, and there is an interactive dynamic throughout that helps you embed the kinds of methodologies and tools you need to convince stakeholders. 

So would you recommend the programme to other leaders looking to better integrate performance and progress?

I would. You have an enormous opportunity to learn and to focus your own resources and faculty expertise on your unique business challenges. At INSEAD you will also find an extraordinary learning dynamic and people around the table that will empower you to fulfill your objectives. You shouldn’t come into the programme expecting to juggle your day-to-day though. Be prepared to be fully present and to listen actively. And if you are going to make the commitment, think very carefully about what you want to achieve and keep your goals firmly in mind. This is the kind of programme that can help you become a game-changer. 

Visit the website to learn more about Integrating Performance and Progress.

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