During the summer of 2006, Karan Attri received an offer that many only dream of. As a school kid in the fifth grade, he was shortlisted to play the lead role in a television soap called Golu ke Goggles. After an extended period of screen tests spread over several months, he passed muster and very soon the soap was being aired on Star Plus. It did not take long before he became a star in his school in Shimla.

A few months earlier, he had been noticed by Ranjit Kapoor of the National School of Drama, during a two-minute role in Ramayana. He often had to shoot for the soap in Mumbai the hub of India’s entertainment industry.

As the soap rolled out for the viewers, Karan became an established name in the school. Such was his passion for drama that he even headed the Dramatics Society at Netaji Subhash Institute of Technology, Delhi.

But Karan was determined that he wanted to make a mark managing a business, and acting was always going to be a hobby for him. Now, with one year of classroom learning at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore behind him, Karan is a Mantra intern at Coca-Cola India as part of the two-month programme, where 25 B-school students take up assignments at the company. Karan has now moved from acting to action – the art of acting has now given way to the science of numbers, with specific targets to be achieved.

“There is an aura about Coca-Cola that it is the best place to work in the industry. The culture of ‘open happiness’ resonates in the offices,” Karan says.

If the acting stint for the Star Plus soap was like living a dream, Karan may have got another dream opportunity as an intern at Coca-Cola. The cream from among India’s premier B-schools are chosen to be part of the programme.

The Mantra interns for the summer of 2018 have been chosen after a team from both Coca-Cola India Private Limited and Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages visited campuses over the last few months identifying young talent, as this is the only way hiring is done at the entry level. It was the first time that the two companies had gone to the campuses together since 2007.

Each Mantra intern works on a specific business-related project. We use their millennial mindset to explore business areas wherein we need fresh views and innovative ideas,” says Manu Wadhwa, Vice President, HR and Services, Coca-Cola India, explaining how the programme stands out in the industry.

The Mantra Summer Internship Programme has been developed to suit the unique needs of Coca-Cola and is run only in China and India. All the interns work closely with a mentor in the company and they are expected to work on projects which could, potentially, become full-fledged assignments for the company.

For the current batch of Mantra interns, there was a classroom session where they were introduced to the company. They were briefed about the Fruit Circular Economy and the Support My School programmes. Over the next 60 days, each of them have been given a clear deliverable, with a mid-term review to be included.

The final review is spread over the last two days and projects are presented to the president of the business unit. The top five projects win a substantial cash prize.

Diverse background to the fore

When Mumbai-boy Vinit Shetty took a one-year break after graduating from NIIT University in computer sciences, he was considering a career in filmmaking, a passion he had grown up with. It helped that there was no pressure from his parents for choosing a particular career. He had found time during school and college to become an Arsenal fan, and looked up to champion sportspersons like Lionel Messi, Roger Federer and Sachin Tendulkar (in no particular order) as his heroes. He joined XLRI at Jamshedpur, one of India’s premier B-schools, and Coca-Cola was his first preference among the FMCG companies which had come to the campus.

He knew the company since he had done a six-month project here while pursuing his engineering degree. The interview process did not take long before he was chosen to be one of the Mantra interns.

“Winning can happen but it is the process that is so important. How hard you can push yourself for it,” he says, while taking a break from the HR-related project he is working on.

As a school kid, Ozair Hamdani was used to plotting his moves on the chessboard in faraway Botswana, where his family had settled when he was barely seven. After earning a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Ozair found himself at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, learning the ropes of managing a business.

Little did Ozair know that one day he could be pursuing an internship programme at Coca-Cola, far from his family’s adopted home. “I always tried to think about how I could impact the world in my own small way,” he said, carefully choosing his words.

If Ozair returned to his Indian roots, Swati Sharma is still not sure of which place to call her own. Daughter of a paratrooper with India’s defence services, she has seen the remotest locations across India thanks to her father’s work profile. Among them were schools where there were no separate rooms for different classes, and even those with no tables and chairs, where the kids sat on gunny bags on the floor.

When she visited a school supported by Coca-Cola, she appreciated the change that it has brought about. “I think I learnt that Coca-Cola empowers the school and parents to make sure that they can change and learn a new way.”

At 23, Shashwat Baxi is clear with his goals. With an indelible passion for music and art, he wants to travel all around the world. It helps that he is a diehard Beatles fan and has been playing the guitar for 11 years, can play the tabla and has learnt classical music.

“I will do everything, and more, at work that can help me achieve my passion. That is my sole aim and that is why I have to do very well,” says Shashwat, head firmly on his shoulders.

The passion that the young professionals bring to Coca-Cola is what drives the programme. As the company looks to become a total beverages company in India, the energy and passion that the entire team brings to work will be the differentiator.

Scratch beyond the surface and you will notice that the Mantra interns carry the values of persistence and agility, and share a passion for the brands that Coca-Cola has.

Work, did we say? The Mantra interns will be following their passion and dream more than anything else.