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Coca-Cola announced today that its president and chief operating officer, Muhtar Kent, would become CEO of the world’s largest beverage company come July. The news came as little surprise—Kent had been heir apparent ever since Mary Minnick, Coke’s former head of marketing and innovation strategy, left following Kent’s ascension to COO. Plus, Coke’s outgoing CEO, E. Neville Isdell, who will remain chairman until April 2009, had already been called out of retirement once, and says he was planning his succession from day one.
Kent, who’s logged years working in Central Europe, as head of bottler Coca-Cola Amatil Europe, which operates in 12 countries, and running Coca-Cola’s global operations, has a resume as international as his background. Known for his strategy and operations chops, he’s not expected to shift much from Coke’s current path, and has been credited with the $4.1 billion acquisition of Energy Brands, which makes glaceau Vitaminwater. One black mark from his past involves an insider-selling controversy that resulted in a settlement in which Kent denied any wrongdoing. According to the Wall Street Journal, the board investigated the issue before Kent’s return to the company.
Kent, who is a native of Turkey, will be the fourth Coke CEO to hail from a place far from Coke’s home-grown Atlanta HQ. Isdell was born in Ireland, Douglas Daft hailed from Australia, and Robert Goizueta was Cuban. Still, Kent’s background, like that of Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo’s Indian-born CEO and Chairman, should do even more to help put a diverse face on the beverage maker, which derives 72% of its net operating revenues from operations outside the U.S.
In today’s world, when far too many multinational companies still show an appalling lack of diversity at the top, how much is Kent’s native country an asset for Coke? A lot, I’d say. Nothing can substitute for global experience. But few actions can go as far as putting a global face at the top for making the brand global, too.
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