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Coca-Cola Nabs Facebook, Tech Veteran for GC Role After Shakeup

April 12, 2022, 4:17 PM

Coca-Cola Co.’s in-house legal team has a new international general counsel in G. Wilfred “Willie” Hernandez, who has more than two decades of experience in the technology sector.

Hernandez was hired after spending two years at Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc., where he was head of legal for the instant messenger app. He has also worked in-house at companies such as International Business Machines Corp., Amazon.com Inc., and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co.

“I am truly humbled by this opportunity and the trust Monica Howard Douglas and the rest of the senior leadership team have placed in me,” Hernandez said in a statement posted Monday to LinkedIn.

Howard Douglas took over last year as Coca-Cola’s top lawyer, succeeding former general counsel Bradley Gayton, who stepped down after eight months at the Atlanta-based company.

Gayton, a former law department leader at Ford Motor Co., made headlines at Coca-Cola by announcing a plan to have the company’s outside counsel in the U.S. meet ambitious diversity staffing requirements.

Coca-Cola, faced with a potential shareholder lawsuit over that initiative, recently confirmed that it never implemented it. The company, which is facing pushback over a $12 million consulting deal it gave Gayton that expires later this month, has said it remains committed to diversity and inclusion.

Personnel Changes

Hernandez, who was raised in East San Jose, Calif., has spoken publicly about his support for diversity and inclusion efforts in the legal industry.

“I look forward to extending and expanding my expertise as Coca-Cola writes its next chapter,” Hernandez said in his LinkedIn post.

He left his role as deputy general counsel at Hewlett Packard Enterprise in 2020 to join Facebook. Now at Coca-Cola, he fills a role left vacant last year following the retirement of the company’s former international legal chief Benjamin Garren Jr.

Garren spent nearly 25 years at the soft drink company, where he once served as general counsel for its North American business unit. He also supervised Coca-Cola’s compliance, ethics, and privacy teams and spent three years as legal chief of the company’s international business prior to his retirement on Feb. 28, 2021.

Garren recently took to LinkedIn to congratulate another decade-long Coca-Cola legal veteran, Sarah Susak, on her decision to leave her role as general counsel of the company’s South Pacific business unit.

Susak is joining Australian food startup Kinrise Pty. Ltd. later this month as its general counsel and company secretary. Kinrise’s chief executive officer, Esme Borgelt, announced Susak’s hire last week.

Legal Recruits

Bloomberg Law reported last summer on Coca-Cola’s hire of a new privacy chief in Courtney Stout, who came aboard from S&P Global Inc.

The company subsequently promoted associate general counsel Anjuli Kelotra to chief ethics and compliance officer, while also elevating Aba Rogers and Ashna Zaheer to serve as senior legal counsel and head of global procurement and information technology and head of securities and capital markets, respectively.

In February, Coca-Cola hired McDermott Will & Emery corporate partner Paul Puckett in Atlanta as senior legal counsel for mergers and acquisitions and strategic transactions. Randy Haight, a former general counsel for Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Football Club, joined Coca-Cola as a global director in December.

Coca-Cola also brought on last year former Jones Day corporate associate Robert Barnes as a securities counsel and former Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton patent litigation associate Jonathan “Andy” Weeks as a trademark counsel.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com