Roberto Goizueta, Coca-Cola Co. chairman and chief executive officer, died of lung cancer Saturday in an Atlanta hospital, the company said. He was 65.
Goizueta was diagnosed with lung cancer in September and was being treated with chemotherapy and radiation. He was readmitted to Emory University Hospital on Oct. 8 with a throat infection, which worsened because the cancer therapies had weakened his immune system.
Goizueta, who had been chairman of Coca-Cola since 1981, died just after midnight, the company said.
"Every one of the nearly one million members of the extended Coca-Cola family around the world feels the greatest sense of loss today," Coca-Cola President and Chief Operating Officer Douglas Ivester said.
"All of us have lost a great leader, and I have lost a great mentor and my friend. Our hearts go out to Olguita, Roberto's wife, his children and his grandchildren," Ivester said.
During the 16 years that Goizueta was the company's chief executive officer, Coca-Cola's market value rose from $4 billion in 1981 to almost $150 billion. The Havana-born son of a sugar refinery owner joined the company's Cuban operations in 1954. He left Cuba in 1961.
Services for Goizueta were scheduled for Tuesday morning in Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Atlanta. Coca-Cola offices around the world will be closed Tuesday, company spokesman Randy Donaldson said.
A tribute service for Coca-Cola employees was scheduled to take place Wednesday afternoon in the Atlanta Civic Center.
The company's board of directors may choose Ivester, who became president and chief operating officer in 1994, to replace Goizueta at a meeting expected to take place late next week.
"In terms of a successor, there's the president of the company, Doug Ivester, but the board must elect the chairman, and that's up to the board," Donaldson said.
Under Goizueta's leadership, the company introduced diet Coke and "new" Coke, streamlined its bottling and distribution system and created businesses in China, Russia and India.
"No one loved the Coca-Cola Co. more than Roberto," said board member Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway.
"His greatest legacy is the way he so carefully selected and then nurtured the future leadership of his company. I know he took enormous pride in the leadership team he put in place to continue the great success the company has enjoyed. He was a great leader and a great gentleman," Buffett said.
A board meeting Thursday was the first Goizueta had missed in the 16 years he was chairman of the soft-drink giant.
"Roberto was a man of incomparable wisdom, vision and compassion," said James Williams, chief executive officer of SunTrust Banks and a Coca-Cola board member. "Those qualities benefited not only the company but the community as well."
"Personal accolades did not mean much to Roberto. In fact, he was somewhat embarrassed by them," Williams said. "But he was very proud of what the company has achieved and the recognition it and all of its employees have been given over the last several years."