Mary Minnick to Leave Coke in March

Marketing Exec Was Passed Over for President-COO Job Last Month

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CHICAGO ( -- The Coke Side of Life is ending for Mary Minnick.
Coke will name a successor later but it is unclear whether the marketer will undo any of the changes Mary Minnick installed as part of Coke's transformation plans.
Coke will name a successor later but it is unclear whether the marketer will undo any of the changes Mary Minnick installed as part of Coke's transformation plans.

A month after she was passed over for the No. 2 executive post at Coca-Cola Co., Ms. Minnick, exec VP-president of marketing, strategy and innovation, has announced plans to leave the marketer at the end of February, ending her 23-year career there.

Moving to the U.K.
Ms. Minnick plans to move to the U.K. to "pursue a combination of professional and personal goals," E. Neville Isdell, Coke's chairman-CEO, wrote in a memo dated today and distributed to worldwide employees. Her departure follows Coke's move in December to elevate Muhtar Kent to president-chief operating officer, positioning him as the most likely heir apparent to the CEO post.

"The company's decision presented her with an opportunity to evaluate [her] options," said a Coke spokesman, confirming she had been a candidate for the president's role. "She decided it was the right time to pursue a combination of professional and personal goals in the U.K."

Known for her blunt, take-no-prisoners style, Ms. Minnick was elevated by Coke in March 2005 as part of a plan to shake up the stodgy brand's marketing function, re-establish its marketing leadership, speed new product development and jumpstart innovation.

Saw budget top $2 billion
Ms. Minnick created a global marketing team and persuaded management to add $400 million annually to the marketing coffers, which soon topped $2 billion. With the additional funds, she created a "need-states" marketing plan that launched dozens of new products, including Coca-Cola Blak, Far Coast, Enviga and Gold Peak, and launched the "Coke Side of Life" and "Make Every Drop Count" global advertising campaigns from Wieden & Kennedy and Leo Burnett, respectively.

"I will certainly miss the relationships and friendships I have developed while working for one of the world's most powerful and exciting brands, but I realize the time has now come to pursue my personal and professional goals in the United Kingdom," Ms. Minnick said in the statement. "And it is my hope and my belief that whatever comes next for me will be as rewarding personally and professionally as my time has been with the Coca-Cola Co."

In a memo that read partly like a letter of recommendation to future employers, Mr. Isdell said Ms. Minnick "has demonstrated her aptitude for research and development, innovation, packaging, and environmental services, building on her exceptional experience in marketing, strategy and operations. Under her leadership, the [marketing, strategy and innovation] team has launched numerous breakthrough brands, concepts, technologies, packages and adjacent businesses," he said. "She has repositioned our juice strategy and refocused our tea strategy."

Lasting effect
Coke will name a successor later but it is unclear whether the marketer will undo any of the changes Ms. Minnick installed as part of Coke's transformation plans. But Mr. Isdell attempted to reassure staff that Ms. Minnick's work would have a lasting effect. "We believe that many of the ideas generated in the last 18 months [by Ms. Minnick] will be transformational and capable of driving greater growth in the mid- and long term," he wrote. "This team is well positioned to carry on our growth agenda, and I have every confidence that they will continue their exceptional work."

While she may have raised the marketer's innovation speed from glacial to perhaps that of lava flow, she leaves a lot of unfinished business.

"This will set Coke back a little because you had such an outspoken and passionate champion of innovation, and will others follow her?" asked Tierney Remick, global managing director-consumer retail markets for Korn/Ferry International. "Will this be seen as a strategic move away from some of the innovation that Coke has been advocating in the last two years?"

Despite the obvious questions about the departure of the marketer's most senior female executive, Ms. Remick sees the move as a "natural outcome" of a tight succession plan. "I don't see this as a senior woman leaving. I view this as a talented executive who's making a choice."
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