Mr. Wheldon, 40, becomes president of BBDO Europe on Jan. 1, replacing retiring chairman Vilim Vasata. With the move, BBDO Europe will move its headquarters from Paris to Mr. Wheldon's native London.
His departure from Coca-Cola comes a month after Sergio Zyman, chief marketing officer, moved Mr. Wheldon to director of European marketing from his worldwide ad post at Atlanta headquarters.
Though it was billed as a promotion, Mr. Wheldon showed no enthusiasm for the new assignment, said people close to him.
Those close to Mr. Wheldon said he felt he had accomplished all that he could working for Mr. Zyman, well known inside and outside Coca-Cola for keeping his subordinates on a tight leash.
"Sergio doesn't always let people do as much as they're capable of," said one executive who has worked for him.
Mr. Zyman had hired Mr. Wheldon in 1993 from managing director at one of Coca-Cola's agencies, Lowe Howard-Spink, London.
Before that, Mr. Wheldon had worked at WCRS and Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising.
Ian Rowden, Mr. Wheldon's replacement as director of worldwide advertising, is a 16-year veteran of Coca-Cola marketing. Jean-Michel Goudard, BBDO's pres- ident-international, wooed Mr. Wheldon for two years, first for Euro RSCG, Paris, and then for BBDO. Discussions heated up in the past few months, said Allen Rosenshine, chairman-CEO of BBDO.
Mr. Rosenshine stressed Pepsi played no role in Mr. Wheldon's hiring. While he will work on Pepsi business, he also will work on other multinational clients, including Apple Computer, Bayer Corp., Gillette Co., M&M/Mars and Sara Lee Corp.
"He has experience creating and winning global brands. Very few people in the world have that experience," said Mr. Goudard.
Coca-Cola hasn't yet decided on a successor to Mr. Wheldon as director of European marketing.
Many of Coca-Cola's agencies will be sad to see him go. Mr. Wheldon's experience with and respect for adpeople made him a friend at a company that typically keeps agencies at arm's length.