Olly Wehring

Coke executive bounces back

By: Olly Wehring - 11 December 2006 13:15

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Coca-Cola Co. showed last week that “honest mistakes” might not always stick for good in the world of business.

On Friday, the world’s largest drinks group confirmed the long-rumoured appointment of Muhtar Kent as president and chief operating officer.

Kent’s promotion to the number two position at Coke is a notable coup for the executive, who was forced to resign in 1997 from Coke bottler Coca-Cola Amatil following an investigation into the trading of shares in the Australia-based company.

Kent eventually left the company to take a job at Efes Beverage Group, only to return to the Coke fold last year to oversee Coke’s business in North Asia, Eurasia and the Middle East – and then to head Coca-Cola International.

Coke chairman and CEO Neville Isdell is widely seen as the man behind Kent’s return and subsequent promotions. The Irishman has worked with Kent for over 20 years and believes his experience at dealing with Coke’s bottlers – the heart of the soft drinks giant’s business – is critical in revitalising its operations in key international markets.

On Friday, Isdell spoke of Kent’s “integrity” and insisted the share trading allegations had been “thoroughly investigated”. Kent’s actions were the result of an “honest mistake”, Isdell said, who spoke glowingly of the record of Coke’s international businesses under Kent.

However, some analysts were less fulsome with their praise. One analyst said Kent is “a logical choice” given his experience of the Coke system, but said he views the move “positive but unenthusiastically”.

Meanwhile, the head of a New York-based investment firm claimed he was “astonished” by the appointment. “Does Coke have such a poor management bench that it has to pick someone who has this black mark on his record?” he told a US newspaper.

Nevertheless, a fitting example of Isdell’s faith in Kent was his decision last year to ask him to mediate in talks between the company and Coca-Cola FEMSA over the price of concentrate used to make Coke products.

Kent will need his reputed powers of pragmatism and persuasion to convince industry watchers that he is the right man for a tough job.

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