As outlined in the Board letter beginning on page 2 of the 2017 Proxy Statement, your Board is overseeing a CEO leadership transition for the Company. This work is perhaps the most important responsibility the Board has to our shareowners, and I assure you that we are committed to seeing an orderly and seamless management succession.
We have been fortunate to have Muhtar Kent as our CEO for the past eight years. He has shown visionary leadership with a clear focus on the long-term health of this business. In this regard, he has refocused the Company on its core business model of building strong global brands, enhancing sustainable customer value and leading a strong, dedicated franchise system. Along the way, Muhtar continued to deliver increased value to you, the shareowners, through continued annual increases in dividends and growth in the Company’s share price.
On May 1, the new leadership structure will become effective. James Quincey will succeed Muhtar as our CEO, Muhtar will continue as the Chairman of the Board, and I will continue to serve as your Lead Independent Director. In addition, James has been nominated for election as a Director at the 2017 Annual Meeting. See Board Leadership Structure beginning on page 26 of the 2017 Proxy Statement.
As we make decisions about the Board’s leadership structure, we do so within a governance framework that provides the Board flexibility to select the best structure based on the specific needs of the business at the time and what we believe is in the best interests of shareowners.
I join with all of my fellow Board members in a shared commitment to strong independent Board leadership and a commitment to good corporate governance practices. To that end, at least one executive session of the non-employee Directors each year will continue to include a review of the Board’s leadership structure and whether the position of Chairman of the Board should be held by the Chief Executive Officer or separated.
A continuing focus of mine as Lead Independent Director is ensuring the Directors have practical, hands-on experiences to help deepen our understanding of the business and also of the key leaders who run the business. The Company has continued to facilitate market visits for the Directors as a way for us to see how the strategy that we discuss in the boardroom comes to life in the field. In the last two years, Directors have visited Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the UK, as well as operations in the U.S.
We also believe that, as Directors, we should help move this business forward in ways that we may be uniquely able to do. This year, we implemented innovation awards that come directly from the Board and recognize each year Company associates who lead innovation initiatives throughout the year. I will note that the idea for this award originated from feedback provided during our Board self-evaluation process.
Finally, as I reported to you last year, we continue to conduct a robust Board evaluation process. This is a point of interest among many of our investors who have said that a robust evaluation process is an essential component of Board effectiveness. We agree.
The Committee on Directors and Corporate Governance oversees our annual multi-step evaluation process, which provides Directors an opportunity to assess the Board and Board committees and conduct a self-assessment. We remain committed to incorporating evaluation best practices and enhancing our disclosure to demonstrate how the process works. See page 15 of the 2017 Proxy Statement for a description of our current evaluation process. We look forward to continued engagement with shareowners on this important topic.
I appreciate the trust you place in me as your Lead Independent Director. I commit to you that your Board will continue to promote the long-term interests of shareowners and remains accountable to you through a variety of good governance practices, which are evolving based on shareowner input. I encourage you to review the following Governance section to learn more.