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Company News : Coke chief to step down next year

Fri., Dec. 7, 2007

Neville Isdell’s tenure as Coca-Cola’s leader saw senior management changes, a big acquisition and a focus on improving employee morale. After his unexpected announcement Thursday that he will step down as CEO next year, Isdell said more challenges lie ahead for the world’s biggest beverage company.

Isdell, 64, who has been CEO since 2004, will be replaced as chief executive by his second-in-command, Chief Operating Officer Muhtar Kent, effective July 1. But Isdell will remain chairman of the Atlanta-based company’s board until The Coca-Cola Co.’s annual meeting in April 2009. Isdell’s role at the company after that is unclear.

Asked why he chose now to set a date for his departure as CEO, Isdell said simply, “because it’s the right time.” He added, “I’ve been working on succession since Day 1.”

Coke shares rose 2 cents to close at $63.07 Thursday. They are close to the upper end of their 52-week range of $45.56 to $63.44.

During Isdell’s tenure as CEO, company profits have steadily risen, particularly on the international side. Also during his tenure, a Justice Department investigation of business practices at the company concluded with a settlement, and the final chapter closed in an almost $200 million discrimination settlement involving the company.

As COO, Kent, 55, has overseen significant initiatives, including the $4.1 billion acquisition of Glaceau, maker of Vitaminwater and other brands, earlier this year. He will continue to hold the title of president.

Richard Zannino will depart as chief executive of Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal, after the company completes its sale to Murdoch’s News Corp. next week, Dow Jones announced Thursday.

News Corp. plans to announce today that Zannino will be succeeded by Les Hinton, a longtime newspaper publishing executive at News Corp., while Robert Thomson, editor of the Murdoch-owned Times of London, will become publisher of the Wall Street Journal, the Journal reported on its Web site.

Shares of Eli Lilly & Co. rose Thursday after its 2008 profit forecast beat analyst expectations, with the drugmaker predicting strong sales of antidepressant Cymbalta, erectile dysfunction treatment Cialis and diabetes drug Byetta.

Lilly projected 2008 earnings per share between $3.85 and $4 on sales growth in the mid- to high-single digits. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were expecting a 2008 profit of $3.81 per share.

From wire reports


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