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Can't beat the real thing
Berkmar grad successful CFO for Coca-Cola

Keith Allen has always had a love for Coca-Cola.

As a kid he would down the soft drink on a regular basis. He never imagined it would one day take him to places like Greece or Prague.

"I have been a big consumer of Coke products since I was a kid," Allen said with a chuckle.

Now instead of buying Coke he's working for the soft drink giant. Allen, a 1980 Berkmar grad, is the chief financial officer for Coca-Cola in the Czech Republic.

Coca-Cola Hellenic is the second-largest bottler of Coca-Cola in the world behind Coca-Cola Enterprises based in Atlanta. The company is the bottler for 28 countries primarily in Eastern Europe and serves 540 million people.

Now in his 12th year with the company, Allen lives in Prague with his wife, Ann, and daughter, Zoe. The financial group he is in charge of has two plants, 12 warehouses and 2,000 employees in the Czech Republic. Allen is the No. 2 man in charge with 10 people directly reporting to him and more and 150 people working for him.

Now his home is filled with Coca-Cola and he even tries new products before they hit the market.

"When I was growing up you had the basic stuff like Coke, Fanta, Sprite," Allen said. "The soft drink market has definitely expanded. You now have water, juice and sports drinks."

Allen worked for Coca-Cola in Atlanta for 71/2 years, but he always had the desire to work internationally, so he took a job in Athens, Greece, where Coca-Cola Hellenic is based. After 31/2 years in Greece, he moved to Prague last summer.

"Prague, in my opinion, is Europe's most beautiful city," Allen said.

Allen's daughter attends the International School of Prague, where there are 59 different nationalities. His wife Ann is on the Board of Directors at the school as well.

It's a unique education for Zoe, but an even better learning experience is first hand. The family travels Central Europe regularly. They went to Egypt in June, Israel last year and Dubai the year before.

"From a family standpoint, we enjoy the traveling," Allen said.

Needless to say, Allen has done pretty well for himself since his days at Berkmar.

While at the Lilburn school he was a two-year starter in basketball. Allen led the Patriots to the Gwinnett County championship in 1980, earning all-tournament honors.

"At that time, every team's goal was to win county," Allen said. "It was a big thing for bragging rights and something everyone wanted to win."

Allen averaged 18 points during the tournament and even had a 35-point game against South Gwinnett during the regular season. That's impressive considering there was no 3-point line back then.

Allen spent a year at Oglethorpe University, where he was on the basketball team, but saw little playing time.

"That's when I asked myself, 'Can I play and compete at the same level that I did in high school?'" Allen said. "I certainly wasn't going to go to the NBA, so I focused on an education and more of a long-term plan."

Allen transferred to the University of Georgia and graduated in 1984 with a degree in accounting. He spent 10 years with Deloitte & Touche before joining Coca-Cola and fulfilling a dream to work internationally.

"Working for Coca-Cola is a great experience both in the states and in Europe," Allen said. "I can see myself working for them for a long time."

"Catching up with ..." is a series that profiles former Gwinnett County athletes and their lives beyond high school competition. This feature will run on Saturdays throughout the summer. If you have suggestions about former standouts, send them to sports@gwinnettdailypost.com.

SideBar: The Allen File

Name: Keith Allen

Age: 46

Current job: Chief financial officer for the Coca-Cola Company in the Czech Republic

Education: Graduated from Berkmar High School in 1980; graduated Cum Laude from the University of Georgia in 1984 with degree in accounting

Background: Two-year starter on Berkmar's basketball team from 1979-80; named to all-county team; led Patriots to Gwinnett County title, earning all-tournament honors; averaged 18 points during county championship

Family: Wife, Ann; daughter Zoe, 9