* Head of Russia business named interim CEO
* Chairman says looking externally for permanent CEO
* Says some issues need clarifying on new plant plans
(Adds comments from chairman, executive and analyst)
By Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell
HELSINKI, Dec 21 Finland's Nokian Tyres
appointed the head of its Russian operations as
interim chief executive on Wednesday, and indicated its decision
on a new plant could be postponed.
The company, one of Europe's most Russia-exposed firms due
to its large tyre plant near St Petersburgh, is losing current
CEO Ari Lehtoranta to another Finnish company, creating
uncertainty about the tyre maker's strategy.
Andrei Pantioukhov, the general manager of Nokian's Russian
operations, will start as interim CEO from the beginning of
Pantioukhov was viewed by analysts as the best insider
candidate, but he told a conference call on Wednesday he was not
being considered for the role permanently due to family reasons.
Board chairman Petteri Wallden said the company was looking
for external candidates.
The process may have complicated the company's plans for a
third tyre factory, one analyst said.
Nokian had previously said it would announce by the end of
this year whether it would proceed with a plan to build a third
Asked about this, Wallden told the conference call that the
project had to be "prepared properly."
"We had a long discussion in the December (board) meeting.
There are some issues we want to clarify more, but the project
is going on as normal business."
Jukka Oksaharju, strategist at Nordnet brokerage, said it
sounded like the company was pushing back the project.
"Perhaps they are waiting for the (CEO) successor to have an
influence ... But it is clear that they will need the new
capacity and I expect it will come to North America."
Nokian's sales were hit by the Ukraine crisis, a slowdown in
the Russian economy and a weakening of the rouble, but the
company has this year managed to offset lost business by growing
in North America and Central Europe.
Nokian was ahead of Western rivals Michelin and
Continental in establishing a large factory in Russia,
which has been a prime market for Nokian's mainstay products,
high-margin winter tyres.
At 1135 GMT, its stock was down 0.2 percent at 35.22 euros.
(Editing by Mark Potter)