Shalini Bhateja: Bending the learning curve from Asia to Africa


With a passion for bringing young African voices to the forefront, Coca-Cola Africa’s vice president for people and culture Shalini Bhateja, is taking the African talent agenda forward.

While Shalini is known for driving inclusivity and collaboration while championing teams, her foray into HR was actually not intentional. Born and bred in Delhi, India, Shalini completed her studies at MIT Manipal as an electrical and electronics engineer and first cut her teeth in technical roles.

She has since enjoyed a multi-faceted career spanning 15 years in technical before eventually landing in HR. She hasn’t looked back and is savouring her people-centric career.

“Impact encourages me, so the teams that I create give me joy,” she says.

Her vast and dynamic career encompasses sales, marketing, strategy, learning and development roles at Schneider Electric in Asia, leadership and team-building in Asia Pacific and her current role in leading the people and culture agenda in Africa, where she leads a business unit spanning 54 countries for Coca-Cola Africa.

Coca-Cola Africa recently attained regional certification from the Top Employers Institute for the first time, establishing it as a leading employer across Africa. Additionally, the South African market has maintained this recognition, being certified as a top employer for the second consecutive year.

Global perspective

Having lived in India, Singapore and South Africa, her approach is informed by a global perspective, underpinned by an ability to build effective teams and foster leadership communities across a diverse range of regions. But perhaps the most impressive thing about this mother-of-two, is her agility and courage in the face of the unknown.

With many career highlights including hiring and building a team servicing 23 business leaders across India, creating a structure for learning and development from scratch and successfully transitioning from a technical role to leadership positions; her teachable spirit, collaborative efforts and willingness to embrace change have served her well.

In 2021, she was appointed HR vice president for the Africa operating unit. This required her to move to South Africa in 2021.

“I’m truly blessed to have an opportunity to be here and to discover a very different and beautiful part of the world. I would not trade it for anything,” she says.

The transition was particularly interesting as she had spent her whole life in Asia and was suddenly plunged into a new continent.

“When I packed my bags and landed in Johannesburg with my family, it was the first time I’d ever set foot on the African continent. It was a huge learning curve from a culture perspective,” she recalls.

Cultural contexts

Her success can be largely attributed to aligning talent management practices with specific cultural contexts.

“The spirit of collectiveness or what we call ubuntu is very, very strong and that informs our talent management practices,” she says.

It is vital for her to create supportive and inclusive structures and spaces that honour African values while spearheading company objectives. While transitioning into the role, she discovered the diverse nature of Africa in itself.

“Africa is so diverse. There are unique characteristics for north, west, southern and east Africa. We have HR, technical, marketing, and commercial partners collaborating and working across Africa. You get a lot of scope and experience diverse ways of thinking,” she explains.

She is focused on engaging people, building trust, advocating for diverse business environments, and propelling African youth perspectives. She recognises that African youth form a major part of the population and is committed to developing and nurturing African talent.

“We want to develop talent that’s not just for the continent, but for the global stage,” she explains.

Shalini likes exercising, reading, playing with her dog, Milo, and socialising with friends. She is also an early bird with a penchant for doing yoga on the weekends with her husband. Her children, daughter (22) and son (17) are a great source of pride and joy. They are also her fuel for success.

“I am driven by the desire to positively influence those around me and to set an example for my children, so they develop into empathetic, resilient and open-minded citizens of the world,” she concludes.

Related articles