Coke announced Mr. Knauss' departure late today, appointing its former president, J. Alexander M. "Sandy" Douglas Jr., as Mr. Knauss' successor.
"Over the past 12 years, I have grown to love the Coca-Cola business and have developed enormous respect for the people who make up this great system, and who have been so good to me," Mr. Knauss said in a statement. "As I leave to pursue the opportunity of a lifetime, I'll always cherish the relationships we have developed."
President since 2004
Mr. Knauss had been president since February 2004, after serving as president of Coke's Minute Maid Co. unit. He joined the marketer in 1994 as senior VP-marketing for Minute Maid and also was president of its Southern Africa division.
"Under Don's leadership, we have executed more and better marketing for our brands and robust innovation in existing and new categories, and we have displayed the courage to begin leading our system to address the changing customer and consumer environment in North America," E. Neville Isdell, Coke's chairman-CEO, said in a statement.
"He's been very successful from Minute Maid onward and he's had wonderful relationships with the bottlers as well," said Michael Bellas, chairman-CEO of Beverage Marketing. "I hate to see him leave the beverage industry. They're stronger today than when he started," he said of Mr. Knauss, who is known for his informal style that extended to the occasional game of catch on the company campus.
Mr. Douglas' appointment marks his return in leading the North America unit after three-and-a-half years as senior VP-chief customer officer. He joined Coke in January 1988 as a domestic district sales manager for the fountain division and moved through fountain and operations positions until he was named VP-Coca-Cola USA in 1994. He took over the North American field-sales and marketing groups in 1998, and was named president of the North American unit in 2000.
His return comes at a challenging time, as Coca-Cola faces its first-ever volume decline for carbonated soft-drinks. The company has set a "manifesto for growth," and as part of that plan, the domestic unit has relaunched major brands, including flagship Coca-Cola, while pushing more funds into marketing -- including digital and interactive -- and developing a broader array of beverages in its portfolio.