Rhona Applebaum - Coca-Cola
Vice President and Chief Scientific and Regulatory Officer
Dr. Rhona S. Applebaum is the Vice President and Chief Scientific and Regulatory Officer at The Coca-Cola Company where she leads Global Scientific and Regulatory Affairs (SRA), including The Coca-Coca Company’s Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness. SRA is responsible for driving evidence-based research and education programs in energy balance, health, physical activity, and food safety; advancing regulatory science strategies; communicating company positions on SRA matters; providing systems guidance on SRA strategic priorities and expanding networks and partnerships with key stakeholder groups to advance dialogue and understanding concerning our products, ingredients, policies and programs.
What traits do senior leaders need to effectively support and advance STEM today?
I firmly believe they must be active listeners and able to assess capabilities, competencies and passions of individuals and identify opportunities where STEM can make a difference for ensuring success from a business, national, global and societal perspective. They must understand the importance of STEM as a both a critical enabler and a foundation for future innovations that will make a positive difference for all sectors and ultimately the public. As Leaders and role models for the next generation, we have an obligation to ensure Senior Leaders align and integrate STEM genius with business acumen for continued success.
What is your concept of mentoring and sponsorship of others for STEM careers?
Foremost, it’s important to be available—as both a resource and a ‘sounding board’ to let the individual think their situation or problem through. I try to be available to all folks interested in STEM, regardless of gender. I did not have a female mentor in my career, but I was fortunate to have male mentors who were ‘gender neutral’ and assessed people based on their skills, determination and content of their character. At this stage in my career, mentoring those seeking a career in STEM is a priority.
As a mentor for women, I try to emphasize that though perfection is a goal, it need not be their entire focus if they intend to be a catalyst for positive change and progress. This is not an easy behavior to accept, especially for women. We are neither raised nor trained to accept ‘being mediocre’—ever—and though we need accuracy to do what we do as STEM professionals, we often equate accuracy with being perfect, and they are truly different. Accepting that it is OK to be comfortable with mediocrity isn’t easy, and truly a learned behavior that’s required for success in today’s world. This in no way should be interpreted as denigrating the importance of having high standards and striving to do and be your best. I suggest they view their career as a trajectory—that’s always pointed North, but one that will also have a few ‘lag phases’ and dips every so often, and that is acceptable. In fact, it’s true to life!
Which woman leader do you most admire, and why.
I admire Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization. I admire Dr. Chan because of her passion to improve public health globally. Based upon what I’ve seen, she recognizes that in order to develop workable, sustainable solutions to the complex public health issues we face, it will take partnerships and collaborations across all sectors—including business, governments and civil society—to achieve positive changes to advance public health. Not everyone is as enlightened as Dr. Chan and it takes vision and courage to realize that the status quo isn’t working and to solve today’s public health problems requires a multi-disciplinary approach, new thinking, creative partnerships, realistic expectations and effective communications. I know of no better role model to admire and emulate. That old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” is beyond appropriate here.