The Coca-Cola Co. yesterday unveiled a major restructuring of its top management in a move that industry analysts said puts Chairman M. Douglas Ivester's imprint on the company and leaves the global soft-drink giant in a position to benefit from improving financial conditions worldwide.
The changes reduce the number of Coke executives who report directly to Ivester, who has been chairman and chief executive for two years, and put three senior managers in powerful positions. Although some reports described it as setting up a contest among the three to be Ivester's successor, analysts noted that Ivester is only 52 and a long way from retirement.
"That's not what he's doing. It's too early for a horse race," said Emanuel Goldman of Merrill Lynch Global Securities. "He's just structuring the organization so it will work well," said Goldman, who added that the restructuring put "the right people in the right places."
The changes put Jack Stahl, senior vice president, in charge of the Americas, which includes Coke's three largest-volume markets--the United States, Mexico and Brazil. Stahl had been North American group president. Now his territory includes Latin America and Minute Maid juices.
Doug Daft, Middle and Far East group president, adds Africa and the new Schweppes Beverages Division to his portfolio. Chief Financial Officer James Chestnut adds corporate services, global communications, government relations, human resources, product integrity, technical operations and the office of the corporate secretary to his responsibilities.
Skip Carpenter, a beverage industry analyst with Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette Inc., said the changes were appropriate now that conditions appear to be improving for Coke. He said some investors have wanted Ivester to name a president for the organization. But Carpenter said that adding a layer between Ivester and the top operating executives might not be an improvement.
Coke has had a tough year, and its stock has been pummeled as it dealt with problems ranging from political disturbances in Indonesia to questions about tainted products in Belgium. Yesterday Coke stock closed at $59 a share, up 18 3/4 cents, compared with a high around $75 a share 11 months ago.
Yesterday Ivester was looking forward optimistically.
"The new structure we are announcing today will allow our company to move forward with a better alignment of our resources against the tremendous volume and profit opportunities we see before us," he said.