(Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) on Thursday named James Quincey president and chief operating officer, setting up the long-time company veteran to possibly one day take the helm of the world’s largest soda maker.
The company also said Ahmet Bozer, another Coke veteran who had been widely seen as a possible successor to Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent, will retire. Bozer, executive vice president and president of Coca-Cola International, will stay on as an adviser until March of 2016, the company said.
"We believe this structure will allow Kent to focus more on longer-term strategy across the entire Coke system versus day-to-day operations," said Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog in a note.
"Given Quincey's favorable regard in the organization and relatively young age, we believe this new role potentially positions him to become (Coke's) next CEO."
Quincey, 50, is a 19-year veteran of the company and most recently served as president of Coke's Europe group, the company's most profitable business.
The announcement means that Quincey could succeed Kent, 62, who was elected CEO in 2008. Under the new management structure, the heads of Coke's international businesses, as well as Irial Finan, president of bottling investments, and Sandy Douglas, who oversees North America, will report to Quincey.
In a conference call with reporters, Kent declined to speculate on succession plans but said the board unanimously supported Quincey's appointment.
Quincey was instrumental in leading the negotiations for the recently proposed merger of Coke's bottlers Coca-Cola Enterprises CCE.N, Coca-Cola Iberian Partners and the German bottling business to form Coca-Cola European Partners Plc.
The proposed deal, valued at 28 billion euros ($31 billion), will make Coca-Cola European Partners the world's largest independent Coca-Cola bottler based on net revenues.
His team in Europe also helped Coke acquire juice maker Innocent in 2009.
"Given Quincey's global background and significant deal experience, we can't help but wonder if (Coke) will accelerate growth through stepped-up acquisitions," Herzog said in the note.
Before he joined Coke in 1996, Quincey was a partner in strategy consulting at the Kalchas Group, a spin-off from Bain & Company and McKinsey. He went on to serve in a number of roles at Coke in Latin America, including president of the Mexico division, where he oversaw the relaunch of Coca-Cola Zero and the acquisition of fruit juice maker Jugos de Valle.
The COO position had not been filled at Coke since Kent left the role in 2008. In 2012, the beverage giant announced a new operating structure, dividing its global business into three main units and giving then possible CEO successors Bozer and Steve Cahillane, who ran the North American bottling operations, much larger roles.
Cahillane left in 2013 in another reorganization.
The company's shares were little changed at $41.10 in afternoon trading.