* CEO will not renew contract ending in June 2011
* Nhleko says time right for next generation leadership
* Market shrugs off Nhleko departure
(Adds analyst comment, updates share price)
JOHANNESBURG, March 1 - Phuthuma Nhleko, Chief Executive Officer of South African mobile phone group MTN (MTNJ.J), will step down as CEO and group president in March 2011, the group said on Monday.
Nhleko, one of South Africa's best-known black businessmen who has been MTN's CEO since 2002, said in a statement that he will continue to deliver on MTN strategic priorities and ensure a thorough handover to his successor until his departure.
I have given this decision very careful consideration. I feel it is the right time to secure the next generation of leadership for the group and the right time for me personally to start thinking about the next phase of my career, Nhleko said.
MTN shares were 0.8 percent higher at 112.79 rand by 0753 GMT, slightly underperforming the JSE Securities Exchange's blue chip TOP-40 index .JTOPI, which was 0.91 percent stronger.
Analysts said MTN had no history of leadership problems and the market expected a smooth transition to the new CEO.
MTN has not really had a legacy of leadership issues and we trust that they will have a seamless migration to the new leadership. They have really done a good job with a stable leadership and I don't think it is a cause for concern at the moment, said Frost & Sullivan analyst Spiwe Chireka.
MTN chairman Cyril Ramaphosa said Nhleko's commitment to continue as CEO until a successor is in place will ensure a smooth transition.
Under Nhleko's leadership, MTN has grown into a group with more than 100 million subscribers operating in more than 20 countries. But Nhleko -- a U.S.-educated civil engineer turned corporate financier -- has twice failed to secure a tie-up with Indian mobile phone operator Bharti Airtel (BRTI.BO), the most recent in September last year.
MTN, with a $26.8 billion market capitalisation, operates in countries in east, central and west Africa such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Zambia and Uganda. Under Nhleko, it has also pushed into Iran, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan, as well as Cyprus. (Editing by Mike Nesbit)