ATLANTA – Muhtar Kent today stepped down as chairman of The Coca-Cola Company, officially handing over the reins to CEO James Quincey at the 2019 Annual General Meeting.

Kent, who joined the company in 1978 after responding to a classified ad, climbed to its highest office in 2008. He reflected on a more than four-decade career that started on a Coca-Cola delivery truck and took him around the world.

“It has been the honor of my life to help lead this business as CEO and board chairman for the past decade,” he told an audience of shareowners at the World of Coca-Cola. “I feel very proud and fortunate to have enjoyed this long, fruitful association with the world’s most-loved brand. And I have a plain and simple message for everyone connected to our business: Our best and brightest days are ahead.”

Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, who also retired after serving on the Coca-Cola board since 1997, credited Kent with reshaping and reinvigorating the global franchise bottling system, nearly doubling the company's roster of billion-dollar brands and strengthening its reputation through a commitment to water stewardship and women’s economic empowerment.

“Muhtar has led our board with an astute and abiding focus on building the long-term strength of this company and its more than 500 brands,” Nunn said. “We all know that quarterly results are important for every public company. But Muhtar, to his credit, was also always focused on and committed to leading, shaping and shepherding this business for the long haul.”

Soon after becoming CEO, Kent and his team collaborated with leaders from the world’s largest Coca-Cola bottlers to craft the first-ever, system-wide business plan. He also spearheaded the process of refranchising company-owned bottling operations to partners who shared the company’s growth vision.

During Kent’s tenure, Coca-Cola achieved water neutrality. The company also launched the 5by20 initiative to empower 5 million women entrepreneurs globally.

“From the time Muhtar became CEO in 2008 through today, the company returned $91 billion dollars to shareowners – $55.3 billion dollars in dividends and $35.7 billion dollars through share repurchases – this during a period of significant currency pressure,” Nunn added.

Kent said he is confident in the company’s future under the leadership of Quincey, who became CEO in 2017. “At the time, I said James was the right leader at the right time with the right instincts, experience and skillset to lead this business forward. And he has proven me right at every turn,” Kent said. “He is leading our business in new and exciting directions while increasing the pace of portfolio, brand and flavor expansion.”

Quincey echoed Kent’s optimistic outlook for the business. “Your company has an incredible future ahead,” he said. “It’s truly positioned to win in a great, growing industry with lots of opportunity. We’ve been transforming our portfolio and stewarding it with discipline. Together with our bottling partners, we’re executing in an aligned way. Our culture continues to evolve to be even more empowered and growth oriented, and we’re doing so by doing business the right way.”