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Coca-Cola General Counsel to Retire in Early 2020

Dec. 16, 2019, 6:58 PM

The Coca-Cola Co. will soon have a new general counsel after a longtime in-house lawyer steps down from the position.

Bernhard Goepelt, who became Coca-Cola’s general counsel in 2011, will remain with the world’s largest beverage company through February before retiring from the role, it announced Dec. 16. Goepelt is leaving to focus on “family obligations in his native Germany,” Coca-Cola said in a statement.

“We thank Bernhard for his years of service to the company and wish him well,” said Coca-Cola president and CEO James Quincey.

The company said in its statement that a successor to Goepelt, 57, will be named at a later date. A Coca-Cola spokesman told Bloomberg Law that the Atlanta-based company will be considering both in-house and external candidates for its top legal role.

Goepelt joined Coca-Cola in March 1992, as legal counsel in its former German division. Over the next two decades, he held a variety of legal roles with the company in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. In 2010, Goepelt moved to Coca-Cola’s Atlanta headquarters to become associate general counsel of global marketing, commercial leadership, and strategy.

While working out of Atlanta, Goepelt picked up the additional duties of general counsel for Coca-Cola’s Pacific Group, while managing the administration of the company’s legal division. In December 2011, Goepelt was chosen to succeed an Australian, Geoffrey Kelly, as he ended his 42-year tenure at Coca-Cola. Kelly had served in the company’s general counsel role since 2005.

Under Goepelt’s leadership, Coca-Cola’s law department sought to become an inclusion leader, bestowing its “Living the Values” award to outside counsel that demonstrated a strong commitment to diversity. Goepelt is a member of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, which last month elected a new leader in Crowell & Moring partner Ellen Dwyer.

Bloomberg data show that Goepelt owns 144,163 shares of Coca-Cola stock valued at roughly $7.8 million. He most recently exercised options on 24,074 shares of company stock worth $668,486 on Oct. 23, according to securities filings.

Coca-Cola, like most multinational companies, is coping with a bevy of legal issues, from labor and employment battles to marketing disputes. Since 2007, the law firms that have handled the most litigation matters for Coca-Cola are Littler Mendelson; Shook Hardy & Bacon; King & Spalding; and Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, according to Bloomberg data.

Federal lobbying filings show that through the first three quarters of this year, Coca-Cola has paid $160,000 to DLA Piper to advise it on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and $240,000 to Squire Patton Boggs for advocacy work related to health and nutrition policy.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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