Coca-Cola's board turning over a new leaf

April 24, 2013 at 9:32 AM
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ATLANTA, April 24 (UPI) -- Retirements from Coca-Cola's board of directors could help the giant U.S. soft drink bottler focus on younger consumers, a corporate guidance expert said.

Coke's goal is "to serve a larger market of young people," said Paul Lapides, director of the Corporate Governance Center at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

"But their board doesn't reflect that," he said.

Lapides suggested Coke install a mandatory retirement age for directors because otherwise, "the hardest thing for a board to do is to ask a director to retire."

His comments are timely. At Wednesday's annual shareholder meeting, the two oldest members of the company's board are expected to step down, including, arguably, its most influential member, Donald Keough, who is 86.

Keough joined the company in 1960 and served as its president and chief operating officer from 1981 to 1993.

The other director to step down Wednesday is James Williams, the former chairman of SunTrust Banks Inc. Williams is 80, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Coca-Cola Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent, who is 60, said the company "will continue to benefit from the perspectives and diversity of insights from a great mix of long-standing directors and new members of our board."

But Coke's board is not your average board, the Journal reported. For one, it has 17 directors, where the average board size among U.S. firms is 10.7 members, said Spencer Stuart, a headhunter firm for executives.

Secondly, the average age on Coke's board of directors is 67, compared with the average age of 62.6 among directors of Standard & Poor's 500 companies.

Six directors have served on Coke's board for at least 20 years and nine are age 70 or older, which the Journal pointed out, is older than any board members at PepsiCo Inc., Coke's long-standing rival.

Appealing to teenagers is also a standard operating procedure for soda companies, the Journal said.

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