WHO WILL REPLACE STANLEY Gault as CEO of Goodyear Tire & Rubber when he retires at yearend? The answer may come as early as Apr. 10 at the company's annual meeting in Akron.

The best bet: Egyptian-born Sam Gibara, the personable chief of the company's North American Tire unit. Gibara, 55, has run the company's European and Canadian operations, helped Gault write its current strategy, and served as chief financial officer. The multilingual Gibara most recently fashioned a new approach to Goodyear's dealers. Some were upset with its selling name-brand tires to big rivals such as Discount Tire.

Still, he isn't a lock. Although Gault has said he would prefer an internal candidate, he's not excluding an outsider. Another insider who might move up as both Gault and President Hoyt Wells retire is European chief Bill Sharp, 53. Sharp climbed the production ranks and, like Gibara before him, has turned in a fine record running the European business. Gault, 69, became CEO in 1991 after serving as a director. The former Rubbermaid CEO came out of retirement to turn around the company, which he did well, producing record 1994 sales and earnings from continuing operations.

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