ATLANTA -- Coca-Cola Co.'s number two executive is stepping down after being passed over for the top job at the world's biggest beverage maker, the latest in a string of high-level departures. Now some are wondering: Who will be next?
The company said yesterday that Steve Heyer, the company's president and chief operating officer, will leave by mutual agreement after a transition period of several months. His plans beyond that were not disclosed.
Coca-Cola shares slid 85 cents to $51.76 on the New York Stock Exchange.
"Part of the problem with Coke has been a never ending series of executive level changes," said James Owers, a finance professor at Georgia State University.
E. Neville Isdell, a veteran Coca-Cola system executive who was named last month to replace Doug Daft as chairman and chief executive, said the decision that Heyer would leave followed discussions he had with Heyer over the past week.
Some analysts have speculated that more changes could come under Isdell's watch as he seeks to restore confidence in a company that is posting strong earnings but has had public image problems amid federal investigations and the executive departures.
Besides Heyer, the Atlanta company's chief executive, general counsel, human resources boss and the head of its North American division disclosed their departures in the past year.
J.P. Morgan analyst John Faucher said in a research note yesterday the main question over the next couple of weeks will be how Isdell and Coca-Cola address Heyer's departure. Like other analysts, Faucher believes more changes could come.
Many analysts had expected Heyer to leave after he lost out to Isdell to be Daft's replacement.
However, Heyer said at a recent analysts' conference that he was looking forward to working with Isdell. "I'm very optimistic we will be great partners," Heyer said May 18 at the Goldman Sachs consumer products conference.
It's not clear what changed his mind. Owers noted that Heyer enjoyed support from others in senior Coke management.
"Some of the significant players held him in pretty high regard," Owers said. "So given that, a new CEO may feel threatened by his continued presence."