The Coca-Cola Company has announced that general counsel Geoffrey Kelly is capping off a 42-year career with the beverage giant. He will be succeeded by associate general counsel Bernhard Goepelt.

Kelly joined Coca-Cola in 1970 and became its GC and senior vice president in 2005.

“Geoff’s deep experience across the operations of the company, combined with his passion for our business and his people have made him invaluable in leading the legal function,” said Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent in a statement. “His legacy includes developing a global organization with great depth of leadership across the entire Coca-Cola system, the successful protection of our trademarks, and creation of business solutions which have accelerated the growth of our system,” he said.

Except for its seven-year ownership of Columbia Pictures in the 1980s, the 125-year-old company has stuck to doing what it does best: selling beverages. Coca-Cola does business in more than 200 countries and reported 2011 annual sales of more than $35 billion—making it the world’s largest beverage company.

The company markets more than 3,500 beverages in total, including its signature Coca-Cola and Diet Coke drinks, Odwalla fruit juice products, and Bacardi mixers. Aside from its eponymous top pop, Coca-Cola’s portfolio includes 14 other billion-dollar brands.

Coca-Cola’s board has put company veteran Goepelt in charge of the law department, effective immediately. Goepelt has been living “on the Coke side of life” since 1992, when he became legal counsel for the company’s German Division.

Goepelt has held various roles since then, including legal counsel, Middle and Far East Group; division counsel, Southeast and West Asia Division, Thailand; group counsel, Central Europe, Eurasia, and Middle East and Pacific Groups. Most recently, Goepelt served as associate GC, based in the company’s Atlanta headquarters.

The German native is a graduate of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. He was admitted to practice law in the United States in 1992.

“Bernhard brings to the role comprehensive knowledge of our system, strong global legal expertise, and a passion for developing a legacy of talent for the future,” said Kent. Outgoing GC Kelly will stay on as senior vice president through February 2012 to assist with Goepelt’s transition.

This week, Coca-Cola also announced its election of long-time Chicago mayor Richard Daley to its board of directors.