Merger of Coke bottlers will cost Atlanta Coca-Cola Enterprises’ HQ

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on August 14, 2015

Ever since the formation of the “new” Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. in 2010, a lingering question has been whether the company would keep its headquarters in Atlanta. Despite all of CCE’s bottling business now being based Europe, CEO John Brock has insisted that keeping the headquarters in Atlanta made sense.

Until now.

CCE on Aug. 6 announced that it had entered into a merger agreement with Coca-Cola Iberian Partners SA (CCIP) and Coca-Cola Erfrischungsgetränke AG (CCEAG), a wholly owned subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Co.

The new company would be called Coca-Cola European Partners Plc, and it would become the world’s largest independent Coca-Cola bottler based on revenues.

And the headquarters would be based in London.

That means metro Atlanta would lose one of its premier Fortune 500 companies — currently ranked No. 368. It is not clear what will happen to the 125 CCE headquarters employees now based in Atlanta.

According to the press announcement, John Brock would become CEO of the combined company. That has raised some concerns in Atlanta because of how actively engaged John and Mary Brock are in the community.

John Brock is a past chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. He currently is chair of the Commerce Club board and serves on the board of the Georgia Research Alliance.

Brock also is chairing the current $1.5 billion capital campaign for Georgia Tech — a goal that has already been surpassed.

And Mary Brock is a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, the WNBA basketball team.

The Brocks have established a Brock Family Chair and a GRA Eminent Scholar in nanomedicine. And the couple is being honored at this year’s National Philanthropy Day as the Volunteer Fundraisers of the Year.

When asked about how the merger would impact Atlanta, CCE spokesman Fred Roselli said that it was still early in the process.

“Until the transaction closes, our leadership is focused on delivering CCE’s 2015 business plans and, just as they have since we became a European business in 2010, will spend as much time in Europe as needed,” Roselli wrote in an email.

Responding to a question about CCE leaving Atlanta, Roselli’s response was:

“It’s premature to make any assumptions about the future of the Atlanta office. The parties are forming an integration team to prepare a plan that will address all of these issues, and we are committed to communicating these plans clearly and transparently once they do.”

And in response to CCE’s future as a U.S. entity, Roselli stated in the email:

“Since 2010, CCE has not had any manufacturing, sales or distribution operations in the United States. It makes sense for Coca-Cola European Partners to be headquartered in Europe, where all of its business will operate. However, we will retain a U.S. listing on the NYSE, will continue to have a U.S. presence and will continue to pay U.S. taxes. These details will be determined by the CCEP integration team, and we’ll communicate any decisions once they’re made.”

Although Brock was not available for an interview for this article, key leaders in Atlanta said that he reached out to them.

“John proactively called me when the news broke to assure me that he and Mary are committed to staying engaged in Atlanta and with the Metro Atlanta Chamber,” said Hala Moddelmog, president of the Atlanta Chamber.

“Though I hate to lose any Fortune 500 company, this deal seems to make good business sense for them, especially since they’ve been a fully European business for five years,” Moddelmog continued in an email. “And, I believe we are fortunate as a community to know that there are very close ties between Atlanta and The Coca-Cola Co.”

Bud Peterson, president of Georgia Tech, said he also had spoken to Brock about the developments with CCE.

“I’m excited for John,” Peterson said. “I think he has provided great leadership for CCE, and I’m sure he’ll continue to provide great leadership for this new organization.”

When asked if he had any insights on how the merger would impact Atlanta, Peterson said that remains to be seen.

“These consolidations take awhile,” Peterson said. “Both John and Mary have been tremendously important to Georgia Tech and our capital campaign, and I look forward to working with him in that role and his numerous other community roles. We are going to do everything we can to keep them engaged with Georgia Tech.”

According to information released at the time of the announcement, a succession plan is part of the merger.

Sol Daurella, executive chairwoman of Coca-Cola Iberian Partners, will become chairwoman of Coca-Cola European Partners.

Brock, who turned 67 in May, will serve as the CEO. Both will serve on CCEP’s board. The CCEP board will have a total of 15 directors.

Speaking of boards, the dissolution of CCE’s board also will be a loss for Georgia. CCE has been one of the most diverse public companies in the state with four women on its 12-member board.

In trying to read the tea leaves, the announcement of the new company’s leadership could indicate who might succeed Brock once he decides to retire.

Damian Gammell, currently Beverage Group President and CEO of Anadolu Efes and a previous CEO of CCEAG, will join CCE as the chief operating officer in autumn 2015. He will become COO of Coca-Cola European Partners upon closing.

Manik “Nik” Jhangiani, currently chief financial officer of CCE, will become Coca-Cola European Partners’ Chief Financial Officer. Víctor Rufart, currently general manager of CCIP, will become chief integration officer. Other members of the new executive team will be announced before the closing of the transaction, which is expected to happen in the second quarter of 2016.

The combined company will have more than 50 bottling plants and about 27,000 associates. It will serve a consumer population of more than 300 million people in 13 countries across Western Europe.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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