Ghosn Resigns Renault CEO Job -- Finally

Paul Ausick

When the news broke in mid-November that Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance chairman, Carlos Ghosn, was being detained in Japan on allegations of misconduct, Nissan and Mitsubishi promptly named replacements. Renault punted by appointing Chief Operating Officer Thierry Bolloré to take over Ghosn’s CEO duties while he was “temporarily incapacitated.” The lead independent director, Philippe Lagayette, was appointed as board chair during Ghosn’s expected short-lived absence.

That didn’t exactly work out for Renault. Ghosn resigned Wednesday as board chair and chief executive of Renault. Bolloré was named the company’s new CEO and Jean-Dominique Senard, also the CEO of tire maker Michelin, has replaced Ghosn as chair. Senard will have responsibility for Renault’s relationships with Nissan and Mitsubishi.

Ghosn has been in Japanese police custody ever since he was first detained on November 19 and faces charges of financial misconduct that could put the 64-year old auto industry titan behind bars for decades. He repeatedly has denied any wrongdoing.

Ghosn arrived at Nissan in 1999 from Renault, which had just acquired a stake of nearly 40% in the Japanese carmaker. He was installed as Nissan’s chief operating officer and was named president the following year and CEO in 2001. In 2005, Ghosn was also named president and CEO of Renault. He added the titles of Nissan chair in 2008 and chair of Renault in 2009, retaining his CEO role at both companies as well.

In 2016, Nissan acquired a controlling stake in Mitsubishi and formed a three-company alliance with Ghosn installed as chairman of Mitsubishi in addition to his other titles.

Renault owns more than 43% of Nissan and Nissan owns 15% of Renault. Nissan also owns a controlling stake of 34% in Mitsubishi. The largest stakeholder in Renault is the French government with a 15% stake.

In 2017 the government had complained about, but not diminished, Ghosn’s compensation package. Last week the government asked the company to call a board meeting to name a successor to Ghosn whose resignation has resolved the issue.

Ghosn and former Nissan director Greg Kelly have been charged in Japan with failing to disclose $43 million in deferred compensation for Ghosn for the period between 2010 and 2015. Both men have denied that the deferred compensation was either illegal or that it needed to be disclosed.

The future of the alliance between Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi remains unsettled. Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko has said that he thought the three alliance members would appoint separate new chairs: “I don’t think there is anyone else on earth like Ghosn who could run Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi.” And it looks there won’t be for a long time yet.