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Nissan to hire Uchida as next CEO, Gupta as COO

Nissan Motor named the head of its Chinese business as its next CEO on Tuesday, selecting an executive known for close relations to top shareholder Renault.

By picking Senior Vice President Makoto Uchida, Nissan’s board has gone with someone slightly at odds with its standard corporate culture. He joined the automaker mid-career in 2003, a rarity in a nation where top executives usually spend their entire working lives at the same firm.

Known for his tireless work ethic and relentless focus on cost control, Uchida was termed by one long-time associate who talked on condition of anonymity as a “foreigner with a Japanese face” – direct and to the point in discussions.

He will be joined by recently appointed Chief Operating Officer (COO) Ashwani Gupta, presently COO of junior partner Mitsubishi Motors, in trying to discover new ways to revive a business that has been having hard time for months with falling profits, management scandal and tensions with Renault.

Japan’s second-largest automaker has been worried in particular by the arrest of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn in 2018 on allegations of financial misconduct, which he rejects, and the more recent departure of CEO Hiroto Saikawa after he admitted to being inappropriately overpaid.

Whether the 53-year-old former theology student can deliver a miracle turnaround – particularly at Nissan’s business in the United States – and repair ties with Renault will now be a focus for investors.

“The biggest business challenge for Nissan is speeding up,” the head of Nissan’s nominations committee, Masakazu Toyoda, informed a news conference.

“Speedy decision making is a challenge that Uchida raised, and to this end he said that he aims to empower people as much as possible, so we decided to ask Uchida to take on the CEO role.”

One source knowledgeable about this issue described the selection as “a victory for the alliance”, adding that both Uchida and Gupta were ready to help Nissan recover.

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