STEVE HEYER NEARS JOB WITH STARWOOD HOTELS

COO to Leave Coca-Cola on Sept. 1

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Steve Heyer, Coca-Cola Co.'s president and chief operating officer, has finalized his departure from the beverage giant and looks to be checking into
Steve Heyer's last day at Coca-Cola will be Sept. 1.
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Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide as CEO.

In an Aug. 10 internal memo obtained by Advertising Age, Coke CEO Neville Isdell told all worldwide employees that Sept. 1 would be Mr. Heyer's final day at the Atlanta-based marketer.

Last day
"Effective September 1, Steve's direct reports will report to me," the memo said. Through the end of August, Mr. Heyer will "continue to work on a number of projects that he and I have agreed he should finalize before leaving," the memo added. Mr. Heyer was passed over for the CEO job after clashing with Coke's board and management over strategy and marketing vision.

According to executives familiar with the situation, he is now nearing an employment deal for Starwood, the White Plains, N.Y.-based company that operates more than 700 hotels in 80 countries under brand names including Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis and W. Mr. Heyer is on vacation and is expected to return Aug. 23. He did not respond to messages sent to his cellular phone and e-mail.

Good match for Starwood
As an executive with strong international and operational skills, Mr. Heyer is a good match for Starwood, which trails only Marriott International in overall market share and is the hottest stock in the lodging market. Starwood reported a 12% jump in second-quarter revenue to $1.1 billion, with revenue per room at all hotels up 17.1% worldwide and 16% in North America. Revenue per available room, a widely used measure of room rates and occupancy, jumped 17% globally, turbocharged by a 49% gain in Asia Pacific.

After flatly denying the rumored move in recent weeks, a Starwood spokeswoman changed tack last week and said she would not comment on the search. The position has been open since Oct. 30, 2003, when current CEO Barry S. Sternlicht announced he was stepping down. Mr. Sternlicht is co-chair of the search committee formed to pick his successor, and will officially resign -- and take over the newly created position of executive chairman of Starwood -- when the replacement is found.

May contact
In May, the hotelier in press reports confirmed it had contacted Mr. Heyer, who rebuffed the job as he was vying for the CEO post at Coke as the sole internal candidate. Shortly after that, Coke announced it had tapped Mr. Isdell, a retired Coke bottling executive, for the job. A week after Mr. Isdell took the helm, Coke announced Mr. Heyer's pending departure, opening up his dance card.

As recently as June, a Starwood spokeswoman told Advertising Age that neither Mr. Sternlicht nor the Starwood board of directors had met with Mr. Heyer, and that the rumors of his candidacy were "off-base."

Mr. Heyer is expected to receive a severance package worth as much as $24 million, depending on the Coke's 2004 results and shares on his departure date.

Starwood global expansion
Starwood is expanding globally, which would benefit from Mr. Heyer's recent experience. But since Mr. Sternlicht will remain as executive chairman, it remains to be seen whether Mr. Heyer is in for a repeat of the political machinations of his Coke experience.

At Coca-Cola, Mr. Heyer won kudos from bottlers and Wall Street analysts for helping it differentiate its vast product lines and for improving operations, a well-known skill gap in Starwood's ranks.

Several observers believe Mr. Heyer ultimately would be best suited to lead a private-equity organization where he can use his marketing vision and operational skills to turn around troubled companies. But another executive saw Starwood as a perfect fit: "If there was any brand that fit Steve's personality, it would be that brand," one former associate said.

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