Charlie Sullivan kept a secret from his family for a year and a half.
As a vice president of sales for Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Charlotte, Sullivan knew the company was celebrating its 100th anniversary by surprising Charlotte employees with $1,000 for each year of employment.
And the Sullivans are one Pepsi family.
On Sunday night, one, two, three, four, five, six members of Sullivan’s family were awarded checks – to their great surprise.
But not to Sullivan’s. Wasn’t it tough to keep a secret like that – Christmas coming in May – from the entire family?
“I never talk business at home,” says Sullivan, 69, and a Pepsi employee since he was 17.
“He’s good at that,” says Sullivan’s son, Mike, who received $23,000 on Sunday. “If he isn’t supposed to say something, he doesn’t. But it sure surprised me.”
The company, billed as the world’s oldest Pepsi bottler, said it gave away more than $3 million to about 400 employees. On Sunday night, president and chief executive Dale Halton announced the surprise windfall as supervisors handed out sealed envelopes to stunned workers. Confetti canons showered the 700-plus crowd in Halton Arena as she said, “This is a thank-you.”
On Monday Halton said, “The feeling at the office today was almost euphoria.”
Executives such as Charlie Sullivan were not included in this round of largess. Salaries for the lucky workers range from $25,000 to $80,000 a year.
No family had a bigger night than the Sullivans, who live in Union County. Charlie’s brother, James, took home $35,000. Cousin Chris Sullivan got $29,000. Son-in-law Randy Copeland, $20,000. Grandson Ryan Copeland, $4,000. And grandson Chuck Hargett, who’s just getting started with the company, was awarded $500.
One night’s pay of $111,500 for their more than a century of combined service. Beats returning Pepsi bottles for a deposit.
“The money’s nice,” Mike Sullivan says. “But that really wasn’t it. It was the message behind it. (Halton) didn’t have to do that.”
Halton is the granddaughter of founder Henry Fowler. He started bottling the drink after his wife, Sadie, sampled it a century ago, after it was created by a New Bern pharmacist.
The company, whose products include Mountain Dew, Aquafina and Sierra Mist, says it produces 9 million “fountain gallons” and cases a year. Company officials don’t reveal finances of the privately held bottler. They have said sales are now 300 percent higher than they were in 1981, when Halton became CEO, and profits are as much as 900 percent higher.
So is a giveaway like this good business? You bet, says Jen Jorgensen of the Society for Human Resource Managers, in Alexandria, Va.
“Something that extreme is really rare. And it builds and rewards loyalty like few other practices could,” she says. “It’s a way to incorporate human capital practices with your business plan.”
Monday night, Pepsi hosted a black-tie celebration for Charlotte VIPs. Pepsi North America CEO Dawn Hudson, N.C. Lt. Gov. Beverly Purdue and others sipped drinks, ate gourmet food and watched a performance by Cirque Productions.
When NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon presented Halton with an autographed racing helmet, she asked, “Where’s the car?”
“You have to make it to 200 years for that,” Gordon said.
Halton said Monday night that she’d been planning the giveaways for five years. Charlie Sullivan wasn’t the only one who could keep a secret.
Every year, the Sullivans take a trip to the beach; Charlie usually foots the bill. “I believe this year I’ll let the other fellows chip in,” he said.
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