October 8, 2019 / 1:23 PM / 7 days ago

UPDATE 4-Nissan pins revival hopes on 'foreigner with a Japanese face'

* Senior vice president Uchida to be next CEO

* Mitsubishi Motors COO Gupta to become group COO

* Appointments "victory for alliance" with Renault-source (Adds details, background)

By Maki Shiraki and Kevin Buckland

TOKYO, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co named the head of its Chinese business as its next CEO on Tuesday, picking an executive known for close ties to top shareholder Renault and for a frank, straight-talking manner that has marked him as an outsider.

By selecting Senior Vice President Makoto Uchida, Nissan's board has gone with someone slightly at odds with its traditional corporate culture. He joined the automaker mid-career in 2003, unlike most top Japanese executives, who spend their entire working lives at one company.

Known for his unflagging work ethic and relentless focus on cost control, Uchida was described by one long-time associate who spoke on condition of anonymity as a "foreigner with a Japanese face" - direct and to the point in conversations.

He will be joined by newly appointed Chief Operating Officer (COO) Ashwani Gupta, currently COO of junior partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp, in trying to revive a business hit by plunging profits, management scandal and tensions with Renault.

Japan's second-largest automaker has been shaken by the arrest of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn last year on allegations of financial misconduct, which he denies, and the more recent departure of CEO Hiroto Saikawa after he admitted to being improperly overpaid.

How the 58-year-old Uchida will turn the company around - particularly its business in the United States - and repair ties with Renault will now be a focus for investors.

"Strong leadership is required," Yasushi Kimura, Nissan's chairman, told a news conference. "Group leadership, where they all support each other, will be more transparent."

One source close to Renault described the selection as "a victory for the alliance", saying that both men knew the business and were ready to help Nissan recover.

Before his ouster, Ghosn had been working on a plan for a full merger of Renault and Nissan, but had met resistance in Japan, which is concerned about French influence in the alliance. The French government is a major Renault shareholder.

Relations were further strained this year when Renault held abortive merger talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Nissan's former China chief Jun Seki, widely seen as one of the top contenders for the CEO job, will be vice COO, the company said.

The new appointees will take up their positions by Jan. 1.

'ISN'T REALLY JAPANESE'

The Uchida associate described him as a "Japanese person who isn't really Japanese inside. Very direct in his language, to the point, easy to understand."

He is extremely proficient in English and worked with Renault, which owns 43.4% of Nissan, on alliance procurement.

Although he is steeped in cost control and rose through ranks in purchasing and procurement - two key things for Nissan - there are other traits that mark him as an outsider.

Unlike other top executives, he has not spent his entire career at Nissan, having joined from Nissho Iwai, now part of trading house Sojitz. He also graduated from Doshisha University in Kyoto, where he studied theology. Many top executives in Japan come from the University of Tokyo, and often study law.

As such he is seen as a "tozama", a lord who was considered an outsider in feudal Japan, the associate said.

Directors at Nissan, including those from Renault, voted unanimously in favour of the two executives, a source familiar with the matter said. (Reporting by Maki Shiraki and Kevin Buckland in Tokyo, Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing and Gilles Guillaume in Paris; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Potter)

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