Warren Buffett won't seek re-election to the
board when his current term expires on April 19, the company said Tuesday.
Buffett, who is 75, told the soft-drink giant that the "decision was a consequence of the increased demands on his time resulting from Berkshire Hathaway's acquisitions of new companies," Coke said. Berkshire, whose 8.4% stake makes it Coke's biggest holder, intends to retain its shares in the company.
Buffett, via Berkshire, bought most of his Coca-Cola stake in 1987 for about $1 billion. The roughly 200 million shares are worth about $8.6 billion at current prices, making it Berkshire's most valuable holding. Still, the stock has been a sporadic performer in recent years, and at a recent quote of $40.75, is down more than 30% from its levels in early 2002.
Coke named Neville Isdell CEO in late 2004 and has been pursuing a turnaround effort that has stressed a more balanced sales mix and volume growth ever since.
"Leaving Coca-Cola is difficult, as it has been a privilege and a pleasure to serve on the board of this wonderful company," Buffett said in a statement. "Under Neville Isdell's leadership, the company is implementing the right strategy to create value for its shareowners and realize the potential of the world's greatest brand. I wish Neville, his leadership team and all the employees of this great enterprise every success as we move forward."
Isdell said, "Everyone at Coca-Cola is immensely proud of Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway's long and continuing stake in our company. And we have benefited immeasurably from Warren's wise and sage counsel over the past 17 years. We have been extremely fortunate that Warren has served our company for so many years, and I look forward to continuing to count on him even after he has left our board."
Coke shares fell 9 cents to $40.65.