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Wintergreen Advisers – Your Home for Global Value®

Established in 2005, Wintergreen is an independent global money manager based in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. Wintergreen employs a research-driven value style in managing global securities. The firm was founded by David J. Winters, who has 30 years of experience in investment advisory services, including management of registered investment companies. David Winters is the firm’s Chief Executive Officer. Wintergreen Adviser’s co-founder is Liz Cohernour, who has over 30 years’ experience in investment advisory business and is the firm’s Chief Operating Officer. All client assets are managed on a discretionary basis. The Adviser does not manage separate accounts.

Click here to view the report:
How the Votes of Big Index Funds
Feed CEO Greed and Put Americans'
Retirement Savings in Peril

For more information about this report, click here.

Current Wintergreen Advisers News:

David Winters appeared on Consuelo Mack WealthTrack

July 3, 2015

As investors move in droves to passive, low-cost index funds, Wintergreen Advisers CEO David Winters discusses why he thinks index funds are a dangerous market mania, akin to other market bubbles.


To view the video, please visit http://www.wintergreenfund.com.


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Click here to view the report:
How the Votes of Big Index Funds
Feed CEO Greed and Put Americans'
Retirement Savings in Peril

Index Investing Puts Americans' Retirement Savings in Peril, Wintergreen Advisers Says

Wintergreen cites position concentration and passive stance on executive pay

April 30, 2015

New York, NY – (Business Wire) - The rush of money into index equity funds has ballooned into a market mania that is fueling excessive CEO compensation and putting the savings of ordinary investors at risk, according to a new report by Wintergreen Advisers that was released today.

The report noted that the massive assets of index giants Vanguard, BlackRock (NYSE: BLK) and State Street (NYSE: STT) make them the largest block of shareholders in America's largest publicly traded companies, holding an average of 16% of the shares outstanding of the top 25 companies in the S&P 500.

David Winters, CEO of Wintergreen Advisers, said: "Trillions of ordinary investors' dollars are now committed to a mechanistic strategy that day in and day out simply buys stocks without a thought for their actual underlying value. Students of market history know that index mania - like other market fads before it - will end badly.

"The sad reality is that index funds have turned ordinary investors into the pawns in a game that undermines the integrity of American markets and imposes costs on society that don't show up in index fund expense ratios. We believe that one consequence of this is that billions of dollars of value created by American companies are being diverted to a select few executives while ordinary investors, distracted by 'low fee' hype, are subjected to dangerous risk concentrations in their retirement portfolios."

Wintergreen's analysis of the voting histories of the leading S&P 500 index funds run by Vanguard, BlackRock and State Street over the past five years for the 25 largest companies in the S&P 500 found that these funds cast their votes in favor of equity compensation plans 89% of the time, and opposed executives' pay packages less than 4% of the time. They withheld or cast votes against directors a meager 4% of the time.

Liz Cohernour, COO of Wintergreen Advisers, added: "Index mania has been a boon for executives of companies in the index, whether or not these executives are delivering real shareholder value. Flows into Big Index's fund products that tend to vote with management means a significant block of the shareholders in an S&P 500 company can generally be counted on to support executive compensation packages even when shareholders are receiving meager returns."

The Wintergreen report noted that index hype creates an illusion of safety and diversification. Wintergreen believes this can lead ordinary investors to take on a dangerously high concentration of risk in their investment portfolios.

By Wintergreen's estimate, the top 25 securities by market value in the S&P 500 in 2014 contributed over 33% of the index's total return, while the top 25 securities by performance contributed 55% of the index's total return. Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Intel alone accounted for over 20% of the total return of the S&P 500 in 2014.

Click here to view the report:
How the Votes of Big Index Funds
Feed CEO Greed and Put Americans'
Retirement Savings in Peril

About Wintergreen Advisers

Established in 2005, Wintergreen is an independent global money manager that employs a research-driven value style in managing global securities. As of March 31, 2015, Wintergreen Advisers had approximately $1.5 billion under management on behalf of individuals and institutions through its mutual fund and other clients, and is based in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey.

For further information on Wintergreen Advisers, please call 973-263-4500 or visit www.wintergreenadvisers.com. For information, forms and documents regarding our U.S. mutual fund, please visit www.wintergreenfund.com.

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Wintergreen Advisers Comments on Shareholder Opposition to Coca-Cola's Executive Pay

April 29, 2015

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE) -- Earlier today, the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) announced preliminary results of the shareholder vote at its annual meeting, which showed that nearly 20% of the votes cast were opposed to the resolution to approve executive compensation, compared with 9% a year ago.

David J. Winters, CEO of Wintergreen Advisers, said:

"Last year, Wintergreen challenged Coca-Cola's pay practices and helped stop management's big grab for excessive compensation. It is gratifying to see that a year later even more investors have grown impatient with executive compensation that rewards failure.

"The vote should pressure the Coca-Cola board to not only reform pay practices further but to move faster on fixing Coca-Cola's business. Companies across the consumer sector are dramatically restructuring - when will Coca-Cola take the aggressive steps needed to restore profit growth?"

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Scoring Coca-Cola's 2015 Proxy:
The "Big Grab" was halted, but urgent issues remain to be addressed

Wintergreen Advisers Cites Changes in Coca-Cola Proxy, But Big Issues Remain

Campaign against 'Big Grab' fostered better disclosure, but pay remains excessive; Coca-Cola strategy lacks boldness and urgency of Heinz and Kraft restructurings.

April 13, 2015

New York, NY – (Business Wire) - Wintergreen Advisers today issued a report on The Coca-Cola Company's (NYSE:KO) 2015 Proxy Statement.

David J. Winters, CEO of Wintergreen Advisers, said: "While there has been progress in some areas at Coca-Cola, the board continues to give Muhtar Kent and his team excessive rewards, and we question whether many Coca-Cola directors are able to vigorously act for all shareholders given their overlapping business interests."

"Meanwhile, Coca-Cola lags behind while other consumer brands like Heinz and Kraft pursue bold restructurings. Coca-Cola's board and management lack a sense of urgency to address Coca-Cola's problems and increase shareholder value. There are three big questions around Coca-Cola," Winters said:

  • "What is keeping Coca-Cola from carrying out transformative strategies like those implemented at Heinz and planned for Kraft?"
  • "Why does this management continue to receive excessive compensation while missing the performance targets set by the board?"
  • "When will the board act to correct this situation?"

Liz Cohernour, Chief Operating Officer of Wintergreen, said: "Wintergreen plans to vote against Coca-Cola's directors because we believe they have not exhibited the leadership and independence needed to restore shareholder confidence and return the company to profitable growth. We urge Coca-Cola shareholders to carefully consider these issues."

The report notes that a year ago Wintergreen brought attention to what it saw as serious pay and governance problems at The Coca-Cola Company, beginning with a proposed equity compensation plan it called "Coke's Big Grab" for its potential for whopping payouts to management. Coca-Cola later said it would curtail the plan.

This year, the Wintergreen report notes, Coca-Cola's proxy statement contains better disclosure than a year ago regarding the value of equity incentive compensation and required performance hurdles for management. Importantly, it shows Coca-Cola did not issue secret bonus shares - the much-criticized stock awards granted without criteria. However, the proxy statement shows Coca-Cola is falling short in other important areas.

Wintergreen believes the Coca-Cola 2015 Proxy Statement:

  • Contains a misleading characterization of CEO Muhtar Kent's pay. Coca-Cola's proxy statement says Muhtar Kent "respectfully declined" his annual incentive award, suggesting he took a meaningful pay cut. In fact, the board increased his stock and option awards, making his total pay about even with 2014.
  • Shows missed performance targets that were apparently overlooked when awarding pay for top managers. Coca-Cola managers failed to meet two out of three of their annual performance targets, and met only the very bottom end of the third.
  • Lowers performance hurdles for management in 2015 versus 2014. Coca-Cola's management not only failed to meet its performance targets in 2014, but the 2015 proxy shows the Coca-Cola board has lowered the 2015 performance bar for the coming year, making it easier for management to earn their annual bonuses.
  • Understates the dilutive effect of Coca-Cola's equity compensation awards. Coca-Cola touts a figure of "$4.2 billion in gross share repurchases" on two different locations in their 2015 proxy statement, when in fact, net of dilution from equity compensation, buybacks were only $2.6 billion in 2014. Similarly, the company says it repurchased 98 million shares in 2014, but its shares outstanding only declined by 36 million because of the dilutive effects of equity compensation.
  • Raises questions about the directors' ability to be forceful advocates for all shareholders. Many board members have overlapping business interests, and several have business ties with investment bank Allen & Co. - whose CEO is Coca-Cola director Herbert Allen. Wintergreen believes these business ties can make the board an insular club rather than a vigilant protector of shareholders' interests.

Scoring Coca-Cola's 2015 Proxy:
The "Big Grab" was halted, but urgent issues remain to be addressed

About Wintergreen Advisers

Established in 2005, Wintergreen is an independent global money manager that employs a research-driven value style in managing global securities. As of March 31, 2015, Wintergreen Advisers had approximately $1.5 billion under management on behalf of individuals and institutions through its mutual fund and other clients, and is based in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey.

For further information on Wintergreen Advisers, please call 973-263-4500 or visit www.wintergreenadvisers.com. Additional information regarding what we view as the issues at The Coca-Cola Company may be found at www.FixBigSoda.com. For information, forms and documents regarding our U.S. mutual fund, please visit www.wintergreenfund.com.

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Bryant Park Financial Communications and Wintergreen Advisers Win PRWeek Award for Best Financial Communications Program

March 25, 2015

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Bryant Park Financial Communications and Wintergreen Advisers were awarded the prize for the best Investor/Financial Communications Campaign at the 2015 PRWeek Awards on March 19 in New York City. The award recognized their work to win changes in Coca-Cola's equity compensation plan.

Bill McBride, Managing Partner of BPFC, said: "We're deeply grateful for this recognition by our peers. Our thanks go to David Winters and Liz Cohernour of Wintergreen for the opportunity to work with them on a campaign devoted to important principles of fairness and equity in the world of business and finance."

David Winters, CEO of Wintergreen Advisers, said: "The award affirms the important role played by the media and investor community in spurring change at Coca-Cola, and of course the real winners are not just Wintergreen's clients but all Coke shareholders. The team at Bryant Park has been a great partner with us on this journey, and we are honored to share this recognition with them."

Each year the PRWeek awards recognize outstanding achievement in communications. More information about the award for Best Investor/Financial Communications Campaign of 2015 can be found here: http://www.prweek.com/article/1338006/investor-financial-communications-campaign-year-2015

About Bryant Park Financial Communications

Bryant Park Financial Communications provides senior-level, hands-on communications expertise to clients seeking to strengthen their companies' competitive position, drive growth and protect their reputations. For more information visit: www.bryantparkfc.com.

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Wintergreen Advisers Poses Questions for Coca-Cola

February 9, 2015 3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time

  1. On the December 15, 2014 modeling call with analysts, Coca-Cola CFO Kathy Waller acknowledged that Coca-Cola’s 2010 $13 billion acquisition of the North American bottling assets of Coca-Cola Enterprises will apparently result in a zero percent return, at best, over nearly a decade. We think this is a shockingly bad investment. Who is being held accountable?
  2. During the fourth quarter of 2014, there were reports in the media that a large buyout firm, 3G Capital, potentially had its sights on Coca-Cola. Coke shares traded sharply higher following the report. Has Coca-Cola been approached by 3G or any other parties regarding a strategic transaction?
  3. In early January 2015, Coca-Cola announced the company would lay off 1,800 employees. How many senior management positions are being eliminated as part of these firings? What is the company’s projected cash and pension expense for severance and other restructuring costs this year?
  4. How many secret bonus shares have been granted under Article 13 of the 2014 Equity Compensation Plan without regard to meeting performance hurdles?
  5. In recent years, Coca-Cola’s spending on share repurchases, capital expenditures, and dividends have outpaced its cash flow, and Coca-Cola has borrowed to bridge the gap. How much longer can Coca-Cola continue to spin the financial plates like this? What is the risk of a downgraded credit rating?
  6. Has Coca-Cola examined its real estate portfolio to see what assets are excess and should be sold? For example, the seemingly incredibly valuable 711 5th Ave in New York City seems to be an unproductive use of assets and long overdue for rationalization.
  7. ith the upcoming nationwide introduction of Fairlife milk product, what gives Coca-Cola confidence that moving into a new market and spending significant amounts of money on branding is a productive use of company cash?
  8. What is the company’s plan for succession following the exit of Muhtar Kent, who we believe has made material misstatements to shareholders and overseen an extended period of poor corporate performance? Will Coca-Cola look outside of its broken system for best-in-class succession candidates?

David Winters discusses Coca-Cola's secret “bonus shares” with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business

February 6, 2015

David Winters talks to Maria Bartiromo about the letter that Wintergreen Advisers sent to The Coca-Cola Company on February 3, 2015, regarding Coca-Cola’s secret “bonus shares.” Winters said, “Only in a document, which wasn't mailed to shareholders, is there a mention of shares that they can issue with no criteria, in an unlimited amount.”

Wintergreen Faults Coca-Cola for Failure to Adequately Disclose Secret Bonus Shares

February 3, 2015 4:30 PM Eastern Standard Time

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Wintergreen Advisers LLC said today that the Board of Directors of the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) failed to protect shareholders’ interests by introducing secret “bonus shares” for top management as part of Coca-Cola’s 2014 Equity Compensation Plan.

In a letter to the Coca-Cola Board released today, Wintergreen said it believes Coca-Cola’s 2014 Proxy Statement did not adequately identify and explain the concept of secret bonus shares, and as a result, it believes the disclosure in the 2014 Proxy Statement regarding the secret bonus shares fell far short of both the spirit and the letter of the federal securities laws governing proxy disclosure.

Wintergreen called on Coca-Cola to immediately claw back any secret bonus shares that have been granted and to pledge that none will be issued in the future. Wintergreen also requested the resignation of all board members, management and consultants or advisers who assisted in the 2014 Equity Plan debacle.


Board of Directors
The Coca-Cola Company
One Coca-Cola Plaza
Atlanta, GA 30313

January 29, 2015

RE: Secret Bonus Shares

To the Board of Directors of The Coca-Cola Company:
Wintergreen Advisers takes seriously its responsibility to safeguard the interests of its clients. That is why we have spoken out about the issues at The Coca-Cola Company, where investment funds we advise have been committed, long-term shareholders. We have been sharply critical of Coca-Cola’s poor performance, excessive pay practices and weak governance because they harm all Coca-Cola shareholders. Yet Coca-Cola’s management and Board of Directors have failed to address these problems. As a result, we feel we have no choice but to continue to bring important facts to light in the hope that real change will come to Coca-Cola.

One area in which we believe the Board failed utterly to protect shareholders’ interests is the introduction of secret “bonus shares.” Although Coca-Cola’s 2014 Proxy Statement contained only one ambiguous reference to these secret bonus shares, under the 2014 Equity Compensation Plan, Coca-Cola’s Compensation Committee may award secret unrestricted bonus shares that are not tied to any performance goals. We believe:

  • The ability to award secret bonus shares absent any specific criteria is a dramatic and material departure from Coca-Cola’s past practices of paying for performance and is also at odds with descriptions of the 2014 Equity Plan by Coca-Cola’s officers and directors.
  • More seriously, the lack of any detail regarding these secret bonus shares in Coca-Cola’s 2014 Proxy Statement fell far short of what is required under federal securities laws because shareholders could have read the 2014 Proxy Statement and still not have known that the Compensation Committee could award secret bonus shares.
The Ability to Award Secret Bonus Shares is a Material Departure From Past Pay Practices

Prior to the effectiveness of the 2014 Equity Plan, Coca-Cola’s most recent stock award plan was adopted in 2008. In Coca-Cola’s 2008 Proxy Statement, there are numerous references to a pay-for-performance approach. Indeed, the very first two sentences of the Section discussing compensation are “We pay for performance. By this, we mean that rewards are not paid when results are not delivered.” In contrast, the 2014 Equity Plan allows Coca-Cola’s Compensation Committee to grant stock awards on any basis it deems appropriate. We believe this overreaching discretion permitting the issuance of secret bonus shares is a material departure from Coca-Cola’s past pay practices.

Coca-Cola’s 2014 Proxy Statement Did Not Adequately Disclose the Concept of Secret Bonus Shares

We believe Coca-Cola’s 2014 Proxy Statement did not adequately identify and explain the concept of secret bonus shares and failed to communicate that these unrestricted awards were not part of the 2008 Plan. In fact, the only reference to secret bonus shares in the 2014 Proxy Statement appears on page 87, when discussing the types of awards that may be granted under the plan: “…other stock-based awards, in the discretion of the Compensation Committee, including unrestricted stock grants.” [Emphasis ours]. It is far from clear to us what the term “unrestricted” means in this context. We think a shareholder could closely read the 2014 Proxy Statement and still not realize that the Compensation Committee could award secret bonus shares. In fact, shareholders would have to venture all the way to page 14 of the 2014 Equity Plan Agreement itself to fully appreciate the vast discretion afforded to the Board under the 2014 Equity Plan. Unlike the Proxy Statement, which was mailed to all shareholders, the 2014 Equity Plan Agreement was only sent upon request. We think disclosure regarding such an important and novel aspect of Coca-Cola’s compensation practices should have been presented to shareholders front and center, not buried in a supplemental document that most shareholders would not read. As a result, we believe the disclosure in the 2014 Proxy Statement regarding the secret bonus shares fell far short of both the spirit and the letter of the federal securities laws governing proxy disclosure.   The blame for this falls solely on Coca-Cola’s Board of Directors, who designed the Plan, unanimously supported the Plan, and signed off on the disclosure regarding the Plan in the 2014 Proxy Statement.

Coca-Cola Officers and Directors Have Made and Continue to Make Potentially Misleading Statements Regarding the 2014 Equity Plan

We believe Coca-Cola officers and directors made public statements during the proxy solicitation period regarding the 2014 Equity Plan that were inaccurate at best, and potentially materially misleading. Specifically,

  • Mel Lagomasino, the Chair of Coca-Cola’s Compensation Committee, stated in April 2014 that the 2014 Equity Plan “does not result in changes to our pay practices – the 2014 Equity Plan is closely in line with past plans approved by the Board and the shareowners. The second point is that we firmly believe that equity compensation is performance-based. If the Company does not perform, compensation is not realized.” [Emphasis ours]
  • Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent stated in April 2014 that “Our new equity program that we have proposed to our shareholders in this coming month in April is completely in line with previous equity programs.” [Emphasis ours]

We believe these statements are simply not true. The new plan has a highly significant element that was not part of the prior plan, namely, secret bonus shares. Further, if Coca-Cola intends to use equity compensation solely to award performance, why did the Board find it necessary to include the secret bonus shares feature?

Equally troubling to us is that Coca-Cola has doubled down on what we believe to be its mischaracterizations of the 2014 Equity Plan. On January 15, 2015, longtime Coca-Cola Director Barry Diller stated in an interview that Coca-Cola intended to issue award shares under the 2014 Equity Plan over a period of ten to twenty years. We believe Mr. Diller is demonstrably wrong as the 2014 Proxy Statement is extremely clear on this point: “Based on historical granting practices and the recent trading price of the Common Stock, the 2014 Equity Plan is expected to cover awards for approximately four years.” No other time frame is discussed in the 2014 Proxy Statement and there is no additional language suggesting a time frame for the plan greater than four years. In addition, the plan itself has a maximum term of ten years, so it is illogical to contend that Coca-Cola intended to grant awards for twenty years.

Mr. Diller also stated that Coca-Cola should have better explained the 2014 Equity Plan, and this is one point we can all agree on. When a shareholder could closely read a company’s proxy statement and not know about a key and new feature of the company’s equity compensation plan, that is a communication issue at best and a deliberate obfuscation of the plan at worst. We wonder which applies to Coca-Cola.

Our Recommendations

We believe investors should have been told in plain terms in the 2014 Proxy Statement as well as in the company’s officers’ and directors’ public statements that the 2014 Equity Plan departed in material respects from previous plans. This would have allowed investors to determine whether the introduction of unrestricted secret bonus shares was consistent with Coca-Cola’s professed policy of linking awards to performance goals that are aligned with the interests of the company and shareholders. As Securities and Exchange Commissioner Luis A. Aguilar told the students and faculty of the Emory School of Law on April 21, 2014: “The underlying corporate governance issue regarding executive compensation is not simply about the amount of the compensation—but whether the decision-making process enables accountability through transparency and through shareholder engagement. To that end, it is important to have corporate governance practices that foster these principles, and that fully and fairly explain the compensation process to shareholders.” In our view, Coca-Cola has failed the tests for transparency and accountability in its communications regarding the 2014 Equity Plan.

To remedy the situation, we urge the Board to:

  1. Withdraw the 2014 Equity Plan, on the basis that a material feature was not adequately disclosed to shareholders in the 2014 Proxy Statement.
  2. Disclose if, when, to whom and how many secret bonus shares have been granted and the rationale for the award. Any such secret bonus shares should be clawed back, to the extent possible, and Coca-Cola should pledge that it will not issue any secret bonus shares in the future.
  3. Represent that future compensation plans will not allow for compensation that is not tied to performance.
  4. Review the 2014 Proxy Statement in light of Coca-Cola’s disclosure policies and present a report of its findings to shareholders.
  5. Request the resignation of all board members, management and consultants or advisers who assisted in the 2014 Equity Plan debacle.

Over the past nine months, we have raised a number of issues at Coca-Cola that go beyond just the 2014 Equity Plan, including what we view as stagnant performance and ineffective governance. However, we feel it is important to address this issue of secret bonus shares again as it epitomizes all of the problems we see at Coca-Cola: overreach and greed at a time of flat performance and a lack of accountability by the Board when it comes to standing up for shareholders. Let there be no doubt – we think the Coca-Cola Board of Directors bears full responsibility for what we view as the serious problems with the 2014 Equity Plan and the far-from-adequate disclosure regarding the 2014 Equity Plan. However, the problems at Coca-Cola go beyond the issues we have outlined in this letter. We believe there is a worrisome pattern of subterfuge, backtracking and changes of direction. The willingness to confer excessive rewards on an underperforming and undeserving management team is a symptom of deeper problems in the leadership of Coca-Cola, a great American institution. Ultimately, if the Directors will not protect Coca-Cola shareholders, then Coca-Cola shareholders will need to protect themselves.

Sincerely,

Wintergreen Advisers, LLC

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Barry Diller Said What?

January 16, 2015

Yesterday, Coca-Cola director Barry Diller attempted to offer an explanation for the controversy over Coke’s equity compensation plan. He says shareholders didn’t read the fine print. The trouble is that his explanation does not square with the facts.

Here’s what Mr. Diller said when asked about the Coke equity plan on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” yesterday:

  • “It’s weird. What happened is that Coca-Cola had a compensation plan that had been in place for a very long time. They had to renew the plan. The rules said that they had to say that X number of shares would be given over a four-year period, right? Coca-Cola had no intention of giving them over a four-year period. They were going to give them over at least ten and maybe a twenty year period. But if you took the four-year period and didn’t read underneath it and understand it, that it wasn’t an obligation, you would have said Coke was giving away all this stuff to employees and looting shareholders when in fact Coke’s dilution is under 1% which is standard for companies, etc. It was all blown to hell. It was not, it should have been better explained, and Coke learned a lesson. It should have explained it in more detail at the outset.”

Here’s what Coke’s 2014 Proxy Statement actually says:

  • “Based on historical granting practices and the recent trading price of the Common Stock, the 2014 Plan is expected to cover awards for approximately four years.” (pg. 85)
  • “Approving the 2014 Plan would [allow] the Company to continue to grant long-term equity compensation for approximately four years.” (pg. 84)

It’s troubling that Mr. Diller – who has been on the Coke board for 13 years and is a member of its Corporate Governance committee - apparently doesn’t understand what the 2014 Proxy Statement actually said.

We would agree with him about one thing, though: Coke should have explained its equity compensation plan better. Of course, had Coke done so, even more shareholders might have agreed with us (and with Warren Buffett, on behalf of Coke’s largest shareholder) that the equity compensation plan was excessive.

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Atlanta Business Chronicle: Viewpoint – Firing workers won’t restore growth at Coca-Cola

January 8, 2015

On January 8, 2015, David Winters contributed the following op-ed to the Atlanta Business Chronicle regarding the recently announced firings at The Coca-Cola Company.

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Wintergreen Advisers, LLC. | 333 Route 46 West, Suite 204 | Mountain Lakes, NJ 07046