Coke's Radical Reorganization Plan: Just in the Nick of Time

Last week, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) announced sweeping structural and organizational changes, designed to make the business operate more efficiently, reduce intradepartmental overlap, and lower costs. The banking giant also made significant changes to its top leadership, possibly hinting at who might be its next CEO.

Yesterday, Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) announced a series of strikingly similar changes. There must be something in the air, or in this case, the soda. That "something" is economic challenge on a global scale, for businesses of every type.

And then there were three
Structurally, Coke is going to reorganize its business around three major divisions:

  • Coca-Cola Americas
  • Coca-Cola International
  • Bottling Investments Group

Coca-Cola Americas will consist of the company's current North America and Latin America operations. Coca-Cola International will consist of the company's current Europe, Pacific, and Eurasia and Africa operations. Bottling Investments Group will consist of the company's existing bottling operations outside North America.

On the management side, Ahmet Bozer will be made Coca-Cola International's president. Bozer is currently president of the Eurasia and Africa group. Steve Cahillane will be made Coca-Cola Americas president. Cahillane is currently president and CEO of Coca-Cola Refreshments. Irial Finan will stay in his role as Bottling Investments Group president.

All three will report directly to current Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent. The reorganization will go into effect Jan. 1.

Floods, droughts, and currency meltdowns -- oh, my!
"By consolidating leadership of our global operations under two large but similar-sized geographic regions and the Bottling Investments Group," Kent said in a statement, "we will streamline reporting lines, intensify our focus on key markets, and create a structure that leverages synergies and gives us flexibility to strategically adjust our business."

That, of course, is corporate speak for: "We're going to get lean, mean, and flexible so we can better compete." For a company the size of Coke, this is undoubtedly a good exercise to go through every so often regardless of economic conditions, but especially so in the world economy as it now stands.

Floods. Droughts. A looming fiscal cliff. A looming eurozone meltdown. No one, consumers or CEOs, is very interested in spending. And the ones that aren't too scared to spend are too busy deleveraging. For good measure, let's throw a slowing China, India, and Brazil in there as well. It's tough out there: Commodity prices are up, and margins are being squeezed from all sides.

Already pretty lean and mean
So, if you can't find external leverage, find internal leverage, which is just what Coke is attempting to do. But for investors, the best part is that the company's margins are already very good:

  • Up against PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) and Dr Pepper Snapple Group (NYSE: DPS  ) , Coke wields the best gross margin in the bunch: 60% in the trailing 12 months, versus Pepsi's 52% and Dr Pepper's 57%. Gross margin can be a telltale metric, indicating brand strength and pricing power.
  • Coke also dominates the group when it comes to profit margin, clocking in at 18.34% versus Pepsi's 9.05% and Dr Pepper's 10.05%.
  • The gold medal for operating margin, another key guide to the kind of internal leverage a company generates, also goes to Coke: 23.64% , versus Pepsi's 14.95% and Dr Pepper's 17.45%.

With year-over-year revenue growth of just 2.7% and a year-over-year earnings decline of 0.3%, Coke slowed a bit this most recent quarter, but the company still performed about on par or better than its rivals. Dr Pepper only managed revenue growth of 2.5% and earnings growth of 3.5% in the same time period. And Pepsi couldn't even manage that, with revenue growth of -2.2% and earnings growth of -21.2%.

The only breakout peer in the field is Monster Beverage (Nasdaq: MNST  ) , which is posting appropriately sized revenue and earnings growth: 27.5% YOY and 38.3%, respectively. However, Monster's not playing in the same league as Coke, Pepsi, and Dr Pepper. Wait until the U.S. and European markets are saturated, and then check back on their vitals.

3 more American companies set to dominate the world
With things being so tough out there, it's good to know one's business is fit, trim, and ready for action, which -- in addition to what we've discussed -- also means the line of succession is being actively thought about.

Muhtar Kent has been CEO since 2009, which is certainly not very long at all. And it's not as if he's under any pressure to move on early, but having three distinct business units with three presidents clearly responsible for the success and well-being of each will make it all the easier to choose a new CEO when the time comes. That's, of course, assuming Coke doesn't look externally for a candidate. And why should it, if it has proven talent waiting in the wings? If you can run Coca-Cola International, you can probably run the whole show.

Speaking of running the show and conquering the world, if you like Coke as an investment you'll like the three companies we highlight in our brand-new Motley Fool special report, titled: "3 American Companies Set to Dominate the World." It's free, so what are you waiting for? Download your copy while it's still available.

Fool contributor John Grgurich thinks a Motley Fool-sponsored trip to Brazil to check out Coke's operations there is clearly in order, but he owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned in this column.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and JPMorgan Chase. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Monster Beverage, as well as creating a diagonal call position in PepsiCo. Motley Fool newsletter services formerly recommended JPMorgan Chase. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On August 01, 2012, at 1:09 AM, SuntanIronMan wrote:

    I'm not sure how radical this reorganization is. Seems fairy mundane. I'm not an expert on reorganizations though.

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