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Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent to Step Down Next Year

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Dec 09, 2016

After several stormy years in the beverage business, Coca-Cola Co. announced the expected news that CEO Muhtar Kent will be succeeded by COO James Quincey, effective May 1, 2017. The word comes amid several senior leadership changes the company announced today (Dec 9). Kent, who turns 65 next year, will remain board chairman.

A 20-year veteran, Quincey will stand for nomination to be elected by the board as a director at its 2017 annual shareowners meeting in April 2017. Experts expected the $178-billion company was grooming Quincey for an eventual CEO position when the company appointed the him president and COO in August 2015.

"This transition comes at a time of important evolution for the Coca-Cola company," Kent said in a statement. According to the Wall Street Journal, Coca-Cola has missed its growth targets for past three years as consumers cut back on cola and sodas in general. Although Coca-Cola has diversified into juices, bottled waters and other beverages, soda still represents about 70 percent of its sales. Coke’s annual sales have declined slightly for the past two calendar years, and in the first nine months of this year revenues lagged 5 percent.

After more than a year in his leadership role, Quincey will need to forge a path forward for the soda giant in the wake of consumers' changing beverage preferences. Coke said Quincey has been involved with recent moves aimed to fit these trends, including selling soda in 7.5-oz. "mini cans" and reducing added sugar across the company’s portfolio.

According to WSJ reports, Coke has posted solid results in the U.S. lately as it increases prices and downsizes packaging, charging consumers more per ounce. But growth has stalled or reversed in many emerging markets including Russia, China and Brazil.