Coca-Cola Co. CEO Muhtar Kent will be succeeded by top lieutenant James Quincey next year, handing the job to an executive credited with steering the company toward less sugary beverages.
Quincey, a 51-year-old who currently serves as Coca-Cola’s chief operating officer, will assume the CEO role on May 1, the company said in a statement Friday. Kent, who turns 65 next year, will remain chairman.
The move will put the London-born Quincey in charge of the world’s largest soft-drink company at a time when it’s adapting to shifting tastes. Many consumers in the U.S. and other developed countries are shying away from sugar and artificial ingredients, putting pressure on Coca-Cola to diversify its lineup. During his two decades at the Atlanta-based company, Quincey helped introduce smaller package sizes and other initiatives to cut the calories of its beverages.
Coca-Cola also is offloading more of its bottling operations around the world, a move that will dramatically cut its headcount and let the company focus on product development. And it embarked on an effort to cut costs by $3 billion under Kent. When the transformation is complete, Coca-Cola will primarily be a seller of concentrates and syrups to other companies, which manufacture, package and distribute the drinks.
“Having worked closely with James during the past 10 years of his 20-year career with our company, I know that his vast industry knowledge, expertise with our brands, values and system, coupled with an acute understanding of evolving consumer tastes, make him the ideal candidate,” said Kent, who has been CEO for eight years.
Investors endorsed the move, sending the shares up as much as 1.3% to $41.51 in New York trading. Coca-Cola had fallen 4.6% this year through Thursday, hurt by concerns about slowing growth.
Quincey also will be nominated for a board seat at the annual meeting next year. The executive was named to the operating chief role in August 2015, following stints as head of the company’s European group and Mexican division. He also led the 2009 acquisition of Innocent juice, a brand that’s now sold in more than 14 countries.
Quincey was born and raised in the U.K. and studied electrical engineering at the University of Liverpool. After realizing that engineering wasn’t his calling, he turned his eye to business, working as a consultant in Asia and the U.S. before being recruited by Coca-Cola.
Warren Buffett, Coca-Cola’s biggest investor, praised the incoming CEO.
“I know James and like him,” Buffett said, “and believe the company has made a smart investment in its future with his selection.”
By Nick Turner and Jennifer Kaplan