NEW YORK (AP) — Coca-Cola said Thursday it named company veteran James Quincey as president and chief operating officer, creating a new No. 2 position and potential CEO successor in its chain of command.
The world's largest beverage company said the appointment is effective immediately, and that its operating groups will now report to Quincey. CEO Muhtar Kent said that will free him up to focus on the company's long-term strategy.
In a call with reporters, Kent said it would be "inappropriate to speculate on CEO succession."
Coca-Cola Co., which makes drinks including Sprite, Powerade and Dasani, has been slashing costs amid sales struggles and says it's in a transitional period. As people have turned away from big soda brands in North America, the company has regrouped to lessen its focus on merely pushing up sales volume. Instead, Coca-Cola is now playing up smaller bottles and cans that may not drive up volume, but fetch more money per ounce.
The company also positions the smaller sizes as a way to enjoy its drinks without feeling guilty about guzzling too much sugar.
Bonnie Herzog, a Wells Fargo analyst, said that Quincey's appointment could also signal a strategy shift for Coca-Cola. She noted Quincey has played a key role a several recent deals, including the company's acquisition of Innocent drinks in 2009.
"We can't help but wonder if (Coca-Cola) will accelerate growth through stepped-up acquisitions," Herzog wrote in a note to investors.
On Thursday, the company also said that the president of Coca-Cola International, Ahmet Bozer, will retire in March and that his position will not be refilled. Bozer, 55, joined the company in 1990 as a financial control manager and has been seen as a potential successor to Kent.
Kent said the retirement was Bozer's decision.
Quincey, 50, had been reporting to Bozer as president of the company's Europe group. He is moving to Atlanta from London for his new role.
Ali Dibadj, a senior analyst with Bernstein, said he believes Quincey's appointment sets up a succession plan, but that it doesn't necessarily suggest that Kent will be leaving shortly.
"Change at Coca-Cola is not necessarily a bad thing," Dibadj said, noting the appointment was a surprise to many.
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