Coke names new CEO in changing drink industry

Coca-Cola President Muhtar Kent will become CEO effective July 1, company chief Neville Isdell said Thursday.

Isdell, 64, who took the helm at Coca-Cola koin June 2004, received the board's approval for the appointment as part of what he calls "proper succession." He will remain chairman until July 2009.

Coke's lack of a solid succession plan left the company's top management in turmoil prior to Isdell's arrival, when sales of the company's flagship soft drink and stock price spiraled downward. When Isdell took over, he had become Coke's fourth CEO in seven years.

The change at the top comes at a time when Coca-Cola — and the beverage industry — is undergoing major change. Consumers are spurning carbonated beverages in favor of better-for-you juices, sports drinks and waters. Isdell helped set a new strategy for Coke in that environment.

Since Isdell's arrival, he's improved relationships with bottlers and helped lead a recent turnaround, with sales and stock price on the rise. Coke's stock is up 19% since Isdell took over. In July, Coke purchased Glacéau, one of the industry's fastest-growing beverage brands. Under Isdell, Coke's developed stronger marketing and new products, including low-calorie beverage Coke Zero. Overall, volume is up 6% worldwide, and sales are up 19% year-to-date for the company.

"One of the most important jobs a chairman and CEO has is to ensure proper succession," Isdell told USA TODAY. "It's generally something that's not well-managed, and it's a goal I set for myself to manage it well. It should be at the core of how you manage a company. It should be a very orderly and very well-thought-out transition."

Kent, 55, who first joined Coke in 1978 and left in 1999, rejoined Coke in 2005 as president of the North Asia, Eurasia and Middle East Group and became president of Coca-Cola International in January. A year ago, he was named president and COO of the company and helped spearhead the Glacéau acquisition.

"We are gaining traction in our growth agenda," Kent said. "We have a portfolio of brands that are (growing), but the most important thing that's back is the belief of winning."

Next on Kent's agenda: "We need to come up with the next generation of Coca-Cola leaders."

Kent has been seen as the successor since returning to Coke. He has worked with Isdell on and off for nearly 20 years. "It's very much as expected," said John Faucher, analyst at JPMorgan Chase jpm. "The transition period gives the market time to get used to the concept even though we all kind of knew it was coming."

Coke closed at $63.07 Thursday, up 2 cents.

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