UPDATE 2-Coke promotes execs in move seen as CEO succession step

Mon Jul 30, 2012 11:08am EDT

* To form 2 big units: Coca-Cola Americas, Coca-Cola International

* Promoting Steve Cahillane, Ahmet Bozer to run new units

* Shares up slightly in morning trade

By Martinne Geller

July 30 (Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co announced a new operating structure on Monday, dividing its global business into three main units and giving two executives much larger roles in a move seen as an early step on the road to CEO succession.

Chief Executive Muhtar Kent, 59, has held the top job at the world's largest soft-drink maker since April 2009.

Coke said Steve Cahillane will be named president of Coca-Cola Americas, overseeing the company's North American and Latin American operations. Cahillane currently runs Coca-Cola Refreshments, the North American bottling operations acquired from Coca-Cola Enterprises.

Ahmet Bozer, president of the Eurasia and Africa Group, will run Coca-Cola International.

Irial Finan will continue as president of the Bottling Investing Group (BIG).

The changes will take effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

John Sicher, editor of industry publication Beverage Digest, said giving Cahillane and Bozer much bigger jobs with more responsibility were "early steps by Kent on the management succession road."

Citing unnamed sources, Sicher said Kent will likely stay at the helm for many years to come.

"One might infer that part of the reason for creating these two new posts and the new structure is for Kent and the Coke board to see how Bozer and Cahillane perform in much bigger roles than they have had."

Cahillane, 47, joined Coca-Cola in 2010 with the company's acquisition of the North American operations of its largest bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises. Cahillane had been president of that unit. He joined Coke Enterprises in 2007 as head of its European operations.

Bozer has been with the Coca-Cola system for 22 years, starting in Atlanta in 1990 as a financial control manager. He moved to Turkey as a region finance manager and later joined a Turkish bottler. He took over as president of the Eurasia and Africa Group in 2008.

The move consolidates leadership of several units.

Currently, Coke's business is divided into groups focusing on Eurasia and Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America and the Pacific. In addition there are units focusing on North American bottling operations, international bottling operations and McDonald's Corp, the world's largest fast-food chain, which has Coca-Cola fountain drinks.

CEO Kent said the new structure was a better fit for the company's future.

"By consolidating leadership of our global operations under two large, but similar sized geographic regions and BIG, we will streamline reporting lines, intensify our focus on key markets and create a structure that leverages synergies and gives us flexibility to strategically adjust our business within those geographies in the future," Kent said.

The company is moving toward a plan Kent calls the "2020 Vision," which includes the goal of doubling revenue from the Coca-Cola system.

Coke shares were up 0.8 percent at $80.64 on Monday morning on the New York Stock Exchange.

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