Coca-Cola’s Muhtar Kent stepping down; James Quincey tapped for CEO

Mayor Kasim Reed (left) and Muhtar Kent greet attendees at the State of the City Speech in February. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Mayor Kasim Reed (left) and Muhtar Kent greet attendees at the State of the City Speech in February. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent is stepping down from his post, according to the Atlanta-based soft drink giant. He will be replaced by COO James Quincey effective May 1.

“Managing The Coca-Cola Company to ensure our long-term growth requires a thoughtful and orderly succession planning process,” said Kent. “I have been engaged with our management development committee and the full Board on talent development and succession discussions throughout my tenure as CEO. We are certain that James Quincey is prepared for these new responsibilities and is the absolute right choice to lead our company and system into the future.”

Coca-Cola named one of the best companies at attracting talent. The Atlanta company is headed by president James Quincey (left) and CEO Muthar Kent.

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The move was “highly anticipated” and leaves Coca-Cola “in good hands,” said Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog.

“Quincey is a great leader and a highly regarded throughout the company. We expect this leadership transition to be smooth given Quincey’s intricate involvement with (Coca-Cola’s) new strategic direction,” said Herzog.

RELATED: 7 things to know about James Quincey, the next Coke CEO

At the same time, Herzog praised Kent’s efforts to re-tool Coca-Cola.

“We have had the privilege of knowing Muhtar for over 15 years and have been very impressed with his leadership capabilities, intelligence and highly thoughtful and strategic approach to managing The Coca-Cola Company,” she said. “Muhtar has been instrumental in the company’s success and the transformation of Coca-Cola’s global system to adapt to the challenges of the marketplace.”

Kent has been CEO of Coca-Cola since 2008. He had started at Coca-Cola in 1978 and spent much of his career in the company’s international operations.

Born in New York as the son of a Turkish ambassador, Kent ran a Turkish beverage company from 1999 to 2005 before returning to Coke. Then in 2006, he was named president and chief operating officer.

Earlier this year, Kent was one of a long list of people being considered as a potential vice presidential candidate to be Hillary Clinton's running mate, according to a hacked email sent by Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that was released in October.

Kent's pay was cut significantly last year, from $25.2 million in total compensation in 2014 to $14.6 million in 2015. Much of the cut was the result of reductions in stock and stock option awards.

The company’s carbonated beverage business has struggled amid changing consumer tastes, as more people switch to teas, water and energy drinks. Anti-obesity advocates have also criticized Coca-Cola for selling sugary beverages.