Coke swoops on GrainCorp executive

Coca-Cola Amatil has plucked its new chief executive from outside the close-knit Coca-Cola family, tapping former GrainCorp boss Alison Watkins to help transform the bottler into a global manufacturer that will reap the bulk of its earnings outside Australia.

Coca-Cola Amatil has plucked its new chief executive from outside the close-knit Coca-Cola family, tapping former GrainCorp boss Alison Watkins to help transform the bottler into a global manufacturer that will reap the bulk of its earnings outside Australia.

The company bypassed CCA chief operating officer Warwick White, a 28-year veteran of the soft drink maker. Ms Watkins will leave GrainCorp in January and start her new role in March, becoming only the second female CEO of a top 30 Australian company after Westpac chief Gail Kelly.

She will replace long-serving chief Terry Davis whose eventual departure and succession had been in the planning for years. She will come into the group at a time when it is set to embark later this month on its return to the brewing sector after a two-year exclusion.

But while analysts only expect CCA to get about 1 per cent of its earnings from selling a limited portfolio of beer and spirits, the company's Indonesian operation, which sells the Coca-Cola brand as well as other non-alcoholic beverages, is earmarked to drive 50 per cent of earnings growth in coming years.

It is believed the board, led by chairman David Gonski, settled on Ms Watkins because of her overseas experience and growth credentials. They have handed her the mission to further internationalise the company's sprawling beverage and non-alcoholic beverage operations.

Her appointment was a long time in the crafting and planning, and was set in motion long before she announced on Monday her intention to stand down from GrainCorp after last week's decision by federal Treasurer Joe Hockey to block US-based Archer Daniels Midland's $3.4 billion takeover.

The hiring is a boon for CCA, as Ms Watkins brings with her extensive experience in the beverage, food processing, agriculture, retail and consumer goods sectors, but leaves a gap for GrainCorp which is still reeling from the takeover rebuff and now must search for a new CEO at a time when its future looks unclear.

While she will need to devise a fresh strategy to help build its position in Indonesia, with double-digit profit growth in that country recently slowing due to poor economic conditions, she will also now lead the charge back into the Australian brewing market after CCA agreed to step out of the sector for two years after the sale of its premium beer business to global brewer SABMiller.

Ms Watkins also faces continued structural and cyclical issues around its SPC Ardmona fruit canning business, as CCA faces the pain of overpaying for the business and a prickly relationship with supermarket companies Woolworths and Coles.

Analysts said the fact CCA decided to go outside the Coca-Cola family for its new CEO suggested that Ms Watkins would have a free hand to scrutinise CCA's entire strategy and drive through a restructure and strategic review that includes its Indonesian arm.

Ms Watkins' contract will see her paid $2.2 million a year, along with an entitlement to a short-term incentive for calendar 2014 worth $1.5 million.

Subject to the approval of CCA shareholders she will be granted a long-term incentive with a target value of $1.25 million.

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