Moving Time for Mary Minnick? Coke Passes Over Ad Star

Marketing Chief Loses Out to Muhtar Kent in COO Contest

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Coca-Cola Co. elevated Muhtar Kent to president-chief operating officer Dec. 7, effective immediately, fueling speculation that Mary Minnick, president-marketing, strategy and innovation, will want to leave the marketer.
Coca-Cola president of marketing, strategy and innovation Mary Minnick lost out to Muhtar Kent for the COO position.
Coca-Cola president of marketing, strategy and innovation Mary Minnick lost out to Muhtar Kent for the COO position.

Steve Heyer's post
Effective immediately, Mr. Kent assumes the No. 2 executive post left vacant by Steve Heyer in June 2004.

"For most of his 28 years in our system, I have worked closely with Muhtar," Coke CEO Neville Isdell said in a statement. "He is an excellent and focused leader, and I look forward to working, and winning, with him."

Many had considered Ms. Minnick a candidate for the top job. However, she faced stiff competition from Mr. Kent in January, when he was named president of the marketer's international division. The appointment of Indra Nooyi to CEO of Pepsi in August buttressed the notion that Ms. Minnick could also rise to the top. But talk spread in October that the board was considering Mr. Kent to become CEO despite a stock-trading scandal that resulted in the Turkey native's resignation from bottler Coca-Cola Amatil a decade earlier.

Speculation swirls
Mr. Kent's elevation prompted speculation that Ms. Minnick was shopping for a comparable position outside of Coke. Several industry observers and insiders have predicted Ms. Minnick will not wait long for a shot to lead a company, even as they insist Mr. Kent's elevation was no guarantee he would become CEO.

"As of today, Muhtar is the clear leading candidate to succeed Neville someday, but it's not a certainty," said John Sicher, publisher and editor of Beverage Digest. "He still has to prove himself in his new job."

"Even if that happens, it doesn't mean Mary comes up empty," said one former co-worker. "She could readily be named president there if or when Muhtar is named CEO."

Ms. Minnick couldn't be reached for comment, but a company spokesman was quick to note that Ms. Minnick continues to report to Mr. Isdell and works closely with Mr. Kent in the executive committee. "Mary continues to provide great leadership for our strategy, marketing and innovation group," said the spokesman, who wouldn't comment on other succession plans or executive contracts.

Fall from grace
Many observers remain mystified that Mr. Kent would have a future with Coke after his earlier fall from grace. The executive, who joined Coke in 1978, was enjoying a successful career and held myriad marketing and operations posts, including general manager of Coca-Cola Turkey and Central Asia.

Then, in late 1996, when he was managing director of Coca-Cola Amatil, based in Australia, Mr. Kent made $400,000 on 100,000 short-sold Amatil shares just before the regional bottler unexpectedly warned of a profit shortfall. Following an investigation by Australian securities regulators, Mr. Kent in 1999 resigned and agreed to pay back the profits he made to share purchasers. Coke management in a Nov. 12 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said it was an "honest mistake" and that Mr. Kent didn't fully understand the nature or timing of the transaction.

"Without doubt, Muhtar is a man of the highest integrity and deepest skills," Mr. Isdell said in today's statement.
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