T Krishnakumar named president, Kini quits in Coke India rejig

Coca-Cola India, in a major shake-up of its top management, today announced that T Krishnakumar, widely known as 'KK', will take over as president of the company's India and South West Asia operations from Venkatesh Kini.

Krishnakumar is currently chief executive officer and South West Asia regional director of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd, the company-owned bottling unit. His new appointment is effective 1 May.

Kini, who has been president of the Atlanta-based beverages company's India and South West Asia business since 1 July 2013, has quit the company. ''I have decided to go back to the US and look for opportunities outside,'' said Kini, who will continue for three more months to handle the transition.

Kini moved to India in October 2012 as senior vice-president from the company's global juice business, and went on to head the Indian arm after his predecessor Atul Singh moved to a global role.

While Coca-Cola did not specify reasons for Kini's exit, business paper Mint quoted two people in the know as indicating that falling sales was the key reason.

''KK is uniquely qualified for this role, having successfully led BIG's (Bottling Investments Group) operations in India and South West Asia since 2009. He is a strategic, well-rounded leader, and has been a catalyst for expanding our portfolio and driving growth in every position he has previously held,'' said John Murphy, president-Asia Pacific Group, The Coca-Cola Company.

KK joined company in 2004, and has advanced through a series of leadership roles.

His current role will be split. Coca-Cola has decided to appoint Christina Ruggiero as chief executive of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages. Ruggiero is currently chief procurement officer for the Coca-Cola System in North America, and president and CEO for Bottlers' Sales & Services, LLC.

Vamsi Mohan, who currently serves as BIG's region director for Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia, will take over as South West Asia regional director for Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, the company said.

This is the first time in its history that Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, which operates 24 bottling plants and covers about 65 per cent of bottling operations for Coca-Cola in India, will get a woman as its chief. Prior to joining Coca-Cola, Ruggiero was vice-president (procurement) for spirits major Diageo Plc, leading procurement and supply chain teams globally.

Coca-Cola has been under pressure in India and globally for the past few quarters, and has announced plans to move to a lean organisational structure and build a ''total beverages portfolio'' tapping ''emerging trends''. On 25 April, it announced that it would cut about 1,200 jobs as it expands its savings target amid falling demand for fizzy drinks globally.

''As outlined by our president and chief operating officer James Quincey a few weeks ago, The Coca-Cola Company is designing a new operating model to support the next stage of our transformation into a growth-oriented, consumer-centred, total beverage company. Key components of this new operating model are a revitalised organisational capability and better system alignment to ensure that optimum execution multiplies our marketing plans and investment,'' said Murphy.

Coca-Cola's sales in India and south west Asia, which includes Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, ''dropped by a low single digit'' during January-March 2017, according to the company's global results announced earlier this week. During the same period last year, the company reported 11 per cent growth. During the full year 2015-16, its profit in India fell by about 6 per cent while sales were flat.

In India, Coca-Cola has been trying to focus on non-carbonated beverages like Vio (milk-based) and Zico (packaged coconut water), among others, for the past couple of years, but sales are yet to pick up.

The company, which announced in 2012 that it will invest $5 billion in India by 2020 for capacity enhancement among other things, has run into objections from local communities in southern India over the use of ground water in the recent past.

''The Indian market has tremendous growth potential, and we believe the revitalised system leadership structure that we announced today will enable us to continue consolidating India as one of the most important growth engines for The Coca-Cola Company globally,'' said Irial Finan, president, BIG.

Murphy said the company expects to come out of short-term headwinds soon. ''We hope to come back to double-digit growth rates in three years,'' he said, adding that the company might look at pricing metrics in India to cater to consumers at every price points.