Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages employee, who has spent 40 years at its plant in Hyderabad, felicitates CEO

The odds on the CEO of a US$1.5 billion company addressing one of the many quality assurance executives as ‘Sir’ wouldn’t be very high.

But not when the person has worked with an organisation for 40 years.

Meet V. Prem Kumar, who remembers that day in early 1978 when he was on his way to watch a film. The weather was changing and Ameerpet’s mild winter was giving way to the harsh sun. He was unemployed and was on his way to a 2 PM movie at Hyderabad – the destination being a long walk and a 45-minute bus ride away. He crossed paths with the quality head of a manufacturing plant of Hyderabad Bottling Company, who politely enquired about his well-being. The two knew each other since Prem Kumar had done a three-month assignment at this factory a year ago. Next thing you know, the two of them rode the quality head’s bicycle to the factory, where he was given his employment letter.

He would then be one of those employees of the company who would quickly learn the proportions in which the different ingredients of Limca and Gold Spot were mixed for the resulting beverage base, to make India’s most loved soft drinks.

For a country of millennials, 1978 can be too distant in history. This was still the time when Morarji Desai was the Prime Minister of India, Sachin Tendulkar was all of five years old and Thums Up was taking its first baby steps towards becoming India’s iconic beverage brand. For Prem Kumar, the memories are still fresh. He does however reminisce about no longer having to memorise the proportions of various ingredients.

“Machines do a much better and accurate job of these things. And when HCCB has some of the best machines in the world, we better use them,” says HCCB’s longest serving employee.  

Probe him further and he reveals that there was just one occasion in the last 40 years when he thought of quitting his job. This was before Coca-Cola’s entry to India, when he had secured a government job. He was however, asked to submit a caste certificate, which was tough to get because a government official had made it difficult for him. Ultimately, he refused to spend more time on the issue, and possibly pay anything under the table, and gave up the opportunity. This was in 1993 and, fortuitously, Coca-Cola’s acquisition of the company happened soon after. The rest, as they say, has been history.

He may well have done the right thing because a few weeks ago, he got an opportunity of a lifetime. Prem Kumar was one of the people who went up the stage to felicitate HCCB CEO Christina Ruggiero as she completed one year in her current job. In return, he got something that he says he will treasure for a lifetime – A Share a Coke can with the relationship ‘Sir.’ In her note to V Prem Kumar, the HCCB CEO mentions how she admired his longevity and discipline – something that she could easily learn from him.  Prem Kumar attributes this to destiny.

When away from his work commitments, he spends time with his six-year-old adopted daughter, and prefers to watch news and cricket on television. He lives in the same house that he had lived since 1978 and takes a bus to work every day.

Forty years ago, he had veered off course when going to watch a movie. Since then, he has stayed on course at his job. The proverbial journey continues.