Green Mountain Hires New CEO From Coke

By Will Ashworth | November 21, 2012 AAA

Green Mountain Coffee Roaster's (Nasdaq:GMCR) search for a CEO is over. What began in February concluded Nov. 20 with the maker of Keurig single-serve coffee brewers announcing Brian Kelley, an executive with Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), was its new CEO. Current CEO Lawrence Blanford's contract was originally extended to December 2013. Having found the right candidate, Blanford has agreed to move up his departure. Long-time investors who've hung in while its stock has cratered, have to be relieved that a qualified candidate was up for the challenge. What does this mean for the stock? I'll explore the possibilities.

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A Deep Bench
Kelley was appointed president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola Refreshments in September and was set to take the helm in January. The division has 68,000 employees and is responsible for North American bottling and customer service operations. His departure, while likely a surprise to Coke CEO Muhtar Kent, won't hurt its business given the management development program that's been in place the past five years. In the words of Beverage Digest editor John Sicher, "I don't think they expected him to leave... Coca-Cola has a deep bench, fortunately." Kudos to Green Mountain for going after the guy - he's got a strong background and is the perfect age (51) to be a CEO. With Kent only 60 and a couple of people ahead of him in the pecking order, when Green Mountain came calling, it was an offer he couldn't refuse. The hiring helps Green Mountain far more than it hurts Coke.

Hiring Speculation
Since Kelley's hiring there's been all sorts of online chatter about why this particular executive was chosen for the job. Motley Fool has entertained the idea that the Coke exec would relish the opportunity to take on SodaStream (Nasdaq:SODA), whose CEO Daniel Birnbaum has been in the press lately, chastising the soda maker for the dual sins of possessing an antiquated business model and polluting the world. While I don't see it creating a machine from scratch, I could see Green Mountain acquiring SodaStream to ensure its growth trajectory continues. Bed Bath & Beyond (Nasdaq:BBBY) currently accounts for 11% of Green Mountain's revenues. It also sells SodaStream's products. Given that Kelley's former role included product supply, the tie-up and integration would likely go smoothly.

Jim Kramer appeared on CNBC Nov. 20 asserting that Kelley's hiring was in large part to restore credibility to Green Mountain, which suffered a stock price drop following a two-year SEC accounting investigation, stockholder litigation, not to mention the negative comments by hedge fund manager David Einhorn, who is short the stock. Kramer reasons that it makes no sense for Kelley to make the move from Coke, potentially risking his reputation, without having some plan of attack including settling with stockholders and working with the SEC for a quick resolution. Seeking Alpha contributor Jason Merriam believes Green Mountain also needs to take a bevy of asset impairment charges for its $1.5 billion in acquisitions over the past six years, which would result in an equivalent hit to its shareholder equity, possibly affecting its ability to acquire SodaStream. It's a dog's breakfast for sure. Kelley's hiring gives the company some breathing room (maybe six months) to start the restoration.

A final possibility, and the least likely, would be Nestle (OTC:NSRGY) buying Green Mountain. Nestle replaced its Nespresso CEO Nov. 21 as part of a larger management realignment. Jean-Marc Duvoisin has significant operational experience with Nestle in Latin America, suggesting it wants to expand beyond its European stronghold. Nespresso is finding it tough knocking Green Mountain off its North American perch. Nestle certainly has the money to make the acquisition and if it did, it would likely focus Nespresso on Latin America, with Keurig ruling the roost in the U.S. and Canada. It's a long shot but Kelley having at the helm makes it more of a possibility.

The Bottom Line
Just because Green Mountain has a new CEO from Coke, doesn't mean you should run out and buy its stock. Green Mountain is a company riddled with problems. I'd wait until at least September before taking the plunge. By then we'll have a good idea whether Kelley can get it back on course.

At the time of writing, Will Ashworth did not own any shares in any company mentioned in this article.

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