Coca Cola has appointed a new president of North American operations. The company announced yesterday that Don Knauss will take over from Steve Heyer. Heyer is to resort to his other positions of chief operating officer and president at the drinks giant.

The move adds to what has been a rollercoaster time at Coke. Last week the company's board launched an outside search for a chairman and chief executive to succeed Douglas Daft, with Heyer the leading internal candidate. Until then, many had thought Heyer had secured the top job. Daft plans to retire at the end of this year.

In a statement, Heyer said: "Based on my ongoing review of operations and plans for the North America SBU and my recent conversations with bottlers, customers and key leadership in the business, I have every confidence that the current year will be a success. Our business plans are sound and achievable, and our system is working together to execute them with passion.

"When Doug [Daft] asked me last December to assume direct leadership of Coca-Cola North America and oversee strategic direction of the unit's operating performance, our intention always was to appoint, at the right time, a president to assume day-to-day management.

"Today, I am pleased to announce that Don Knauss has been named president of the North America SBU. Don will report to me. Don brings unmatched skills, leadership and relationships to the job, along with heartfelt belief in the culture we are instilling across our flagship operating unit."

Coke was keen to dispel further rumours following the announcement. A spokesperson said: "Appointing a president of our North America unit was an action we contemplated since last December. To read any more into this appointment would be flat wrong."

Knauss joined the company in 1994 as senior vice president of marketing for The Minute Maid Company, and was named senior vice president and general manager, U.S. Division in 1996.

He served for nearly two years as president of the Southern Africa Division, managing the company's business in 10 countries of Southern Africa. He was named president and chief executive officer of The Minute Maid Company in 2000, and became president of the Retail Division of Coca-Cola North America in 2003.