Douglas N. Daft Cites 'Personal Wishes' For Departure

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CHICAGO ( -- Faced with an increasingly difficult competitive environment in the carbonated soft-drink industry, Coca-Cola Co.'s chairman-CEO, Douglas N. Daft, today said he plans to retire at the end of 2004, citing "personal wishes."

"In 1999, when the company's board asked me to assume the position of chairman and CEO, this company faced a number of significant structural and strategic challenges," Mr. Daft said in a statement. "Today, our brands are stronger and our global production and marketing system has been restored to health. I am proud of what we have accomplished. I am especially pleased with our net results in 2003, and our prospects for success in 2004 are very good."

Search firm retained
The company's board of directors is retaining a search firm to identify external candidates for the post. President and COO Steve Heyer is the sole internal candidate for the job but not a shoo-in.

"We owe it to this world-class company to look around at all the candidates," board member James B. Williams said through a spokeswoman as to why the company is conducting an external search for Mr. Daft's successor.

The spokeswoman said neither Mr. Daft nor Mr. Heyer would comment further.

Tough 2003
Last year proved challenging for the company, which cut 1,000 jobs and merged its domestic food service, bottle and can, and Minute Maid units into a single group. Coca-Cola is cooperating with federal investigators looking into fraud allegations levied in a lawsuit by a former employee, Matthew Whitley. Moreover, the soft-drink industry has seen declines in consumption due to obesity concerns and increasing competition from non-carbonated beverages.

Despite trumpeting a bullish outlook for 2004, some observers are skeptical that the Atlanta-based beverage giant has put the worst behind it. In December, Mr. Heyer told analysts and investors that Coca-Cola needs to pursue profitable growth rather than just volume growth. Company management forecast operating profit growth of 10%, a number some analysts say is high by one to two percentage points.

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