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Bridgestone replaces chief operating officer after just year and a half

Vice Chairman Higashi promoted to global post under new CEO

Vice Chair Masahiro Higashi will assume the new post of global COO on July 1. (Nikkei montage/photos by Reuters and Bridgestone)

TOKYO -- Bridgestone, the world's top tire maker by market share, has decided to replace its chief operating officer after less than two years in the latest management change at the Japanese blue chip.

Vice Chair Masahiro Higashi will assume the new post of global COO on July 1, the company said Monday.

Higashi replaces outgoing COO and President Akihiro Eto, who will retire from all executive posts but stay on the board.

The reshuffle comes less than two months after the company installed new CEO Shuichi Ishibashi, who rose through the ranks after long experience in the tire manufacturer's U.S. and other global operations.

Bridgestone played down any significance of the timing of the COO change. "We are constantly reviewing our management team and seek to place the right people in the right positions," a spokesperson said.

Bridgestone's Shuichi Ishibashi speaks at a news conference in December 2019, when his promotion to CEO was announced. (Photo by Arisa Moriyama)

Bridgestone brought back the position of president in January 2019 after having abolished it in 2012 and divided the responsibilities between the CEO and the COO. In announcing the post would be revived, Chairman Masaaki Tsuya said in 2018 that having a president suits Japanese business culture, where it is "easy to understand" what the role means.

Outgoing COO Eto took the post when it was brought back. But his successor Higashi will not carry on the role. 

With roughly 15% of the global market, Bridgestone faces stiff price competition from emerging-market rivals. The company is channeling more resources into services tailored to specific customers' needs.

Besides being involved in Bridgestone's tire business, Higashi has also headed the noncore diversified-products segment, which includes conveyor belts and hydraulic hoses.

Higashi will serve as right-hand man to Ishibashi, who has about 14 years of experience on the U.S. side of the business.

Ishibashi's promotion to CEO was announced in December, less than a year after Eto assumed the role of president and COO.

A Bridgestone spokesperson said then that there was "nothing unusual" about the promotion and that Tsuya, Eto and Ishibashi had "have already been working together as a team of three up to now."

Ishibashi bears no relation to the company's founding family of the same name, which literally means "stone bridge" in Japanese and inspired the tire maker's name, according to Bridgestone.

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