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Coca-Cola President Heyer to Leave

June 10, 2004|From Reuters

Coca-Cola Co. President and Chief Operating Officer Steven Heyer, who was passed over for the top job in May, is leaving the company, the world's biggest soft drink maker said Wednesday.

Company watchers had speculated that Heyer might leave after E. Neville Isdell was named the replacement for departed Chairman and Chief Executive Doug Daft. But Heyer had recently said he was optimistic about partnering with Isdell, who assumed his position June 1.

"Steve -- not surprisingly -- has his own personal goals," Isdell said in a memo to company employees. "That's why Steve and I agreed that he could best realize his aspirations outside of the company."

Despite Heyer's recent public statements, his departure did not come as a shock, said John Sicher, editor of industry newsletter Beverage Digest. There could be more changes in the future, he added.

"Neville needs to have his own management team and management structure in place," Sicher said. "I think we'll see what Neville's vision of Coke and Coke management begins to look like relatively soon."

Heyer's departure leaves a big hole near the top of the company's management and opens the question about who will be Isdell's second in command. The company declined to comment on what the new management structure would look like.

Some investors were worried about what the loss of Heyer would do to the company, said Robert Van Brugge, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein.

"They ... are disappointed to see Steve leave because a lot of people hoped that he ... would eventually become the CEO," he said. "They obviously had a lot of confidence in him."

Shares of Coca-Cola closed down 85 cents at $51.76 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Heyer's is the latest in a string of high-profile departures from Coke. The company's general counsel and its head of North American operations recently left.

The world's largest soft drink maker is struggling to boost sluggish sales of its flagship Coca-Cola brand and calm investors spooked by government probes of alleged accounting fraud.

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