ATLANTA -- Upon the recommendation of Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent, The Coca-Cola Company’s Board of Directors today announced it has approved unanimously an evolution of the company’s senior leadership structure, appointing Coke veteran James Quincey as the company’s next chief executive officer, effective May 1, 2017. Kent will continue as chairman of the Board of Directors.
We spoke to Kent and Quincey about this announcement and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
First off, congratulations to you both. How do you feel?
Kent: This is one of the proudest days of my 38-year career in the Coca-Cola system. I feel good, primarily because I know there is no one more capable of leading our company into the future as CEO than my close business partner, James Quincey. I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with James for about half of his 20-year career with Coke, and I know his vast industry knowledge, expertise with our brands, values and global bottling system, coupled with an acute understanding of how consumer tastes are changing, make him the ideal candidate to lead us forward.
If you look back at James’ career, he has shown a great understanding of where consumers are going and has led key efforts in our system to expand our portfolio, introduce smaller packages and, most recently, to drive beverage reformulation to reduce added sugars in our drinks. I think anyone you talk to within our system will tell you that James is a proven, inspirational leader, and I feel really good about the partnership we have formed and what we can continue to achieve together.
Quincey: Well, Muhtar, thanks for that. I appreciate your support and hope to advance the great work you have done over the last eight years as our chairman and CEO. In terms of how I feel, it’s maybe a pair of overused words, but I really am honored and humbled. We have a strong leadership tradition within the Coca-Cola system, and it’s a humbling experience to be selected for a role that has been held by Muhtar and so many great role models throughout the company’s history. I am excited for the many opportunities that lie ahead for our business, and look forward to continuing to work with Muhtar to ensure a smooth transition.
Why is now the right time to make this transition?
Kent: We’re in the midst of an important evolution of the company as we refocus on our core business model of building strong global brands and leading a strong, dedicated franchise system with an aligned purpose. Our leadership team has made a lot of progress on this transformation over the last few years, and I recommended to the Board that continuing the partnership James and I have established, with an adjusted focus for each of us, will allow us to apply our strongest skills to continuing the sustained growth of the business.
What else needs to be done to successfully execute the company’s ongoing transformation plan?
Quincey: We have to continue listening to the people who love our brands and beverages. We have to keep asking, what do they want next? What beverages excite them? If we do this, we will continue to successfully reshape our portfolio in a way that is exciting and offers consumers more innovation and choice than ever before. For example, we know that consumers are looking for less sugar, so we’re expanding the selection of low- and no-calorie products, in addition to working on more than 200 reformulation initiatives worldwide. We’ve been on this journey for a while – continuing to launch hundreds of new products each year – but we will continue to accelerate our pace given the fast-moving nature of our business.
Muhtar, as you look back on your tenure as CEO over the last eight years, what would you say has been the biggest change at Coca-Cola?
Kent: I would say the transformation we’ve undertaken to return the company to its roots as the world’s pre-eminent brand and franchise business is probably one of the most significant changes we’ve seen not just in my tenure, but in the last quarter-century. The excitement we’ve generated in our global bottling system through this transformation has brought a lot of energy to the business. And the alignment within our bottling system is probably the best it’s been in years. James, would you agree?
Quincey: Yes. But I would also call out the monumental shift in our system’s culture that Muhtar has led to refocus our business on growing revenue ahead of volume. Through the segmented revenue strategies that have been laid out, our business is more focused on generating sustainable and profitable growth, which is good not only for our shareowners but also for our bottlers, customers, partners and associates.
I also should not let it go unmentioned that among the major changes we’ve seen in recent years has been a stepped-up focus by the company to address social and economic issues. Thanks in large part to Muhtar’s leadership, we are on a journey to help create economic empowerment opportunities for 5 million women in our supply chain through the 5by20 initiative; we’re already replenishing 100 percent of the water we use worldwide; and we’ve continued to advance diversity as a core value in our business. Our commitment to many of these issues has been thanks to Muhtar’s focused leadership.
James, what would you say to Coca-Cola people worldwide as the company enters this new chapter in history?
Quincey: We can’t be afraid to take risks and continue to transform our company for the fast-changing world we serve. In short: be bold, be brave. We will continue to honor our great history built on more than 130 years of proud traditions, but at the same time we must continue to follow our consumers and customers to where they take us. The transformation plan that has been put in place under Muhtar’s leadership serves us well, and now we have to accelerate it to the next level. I look forward to working with our people around the world to embrace the opportunities and changes ahead of us.