Carlos Ghosn’s plan to name a successor is touching off turmoil within the board of directors at French automaker Renault, according to reports out of Europe.
Senior board member Thierry Desmarest has resigned, according to the Reuters news service, following the recent resignation of Stefan Mueller, Renault’s chief performance officer. Their departures appears to clear the way for Ghosn to name Thierry Bollore as his chief operating officer and heir apparent.
One of the highest-profile executives in the automotive world, Ghosn has taken on a variety of senior positions since he was first assigned to rescue the Japanese side of what became the Renault-Nissan Alliance two decades ago. That includes serving as CEO of both Renault and the Alliance, as well as chief executive of Mitsubishi, which recently became third member of the group.
But with Ghosn set to turn 64 next month he has been moving to refocus his efforts. Last April, he stepped down as Nissan CEO, turning the reins over to Hiroto Saikawa, so he could focus on rebuilding the long-struggling Mitsubishi.
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Though the Brazilian-born executive has given no indication of when he might retire, Ghosn’s next move appears to be pulling back from day-to-day operations at Renault, where he has been serving as president and CEO since 2005 – adding the chairman’s duties in 2009.
But Ghosn’s transition plans have not gone smoothly. One-time heir apparent Carlos Tavares left the Alliance in 2013 after an apparent dispute with Ghosn. He now heads French rival PSA Group, owner of the Peugeot and Citroen brands.
More recently, the French government – which holds a major stake in Renault – has been resisting some of Ghosn’s plans. That clash reached a boil in 2015 when the French government increased its stake and pressed Renault to completely take over Nissan – in which the French company currently holds a 43.4% stake. Ghosn ultimately blocked that move but he now is expected to remain CEO of Renault for the time being, the board set to reappoint him in June. Bollore, nonetheless, will be well positioned to succeed him eventually.
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Even though Ghosn and the government appear to be trying to set their differences aside, his decision to make Bollore his heir-apparent isn’t going over smoothly. According to Reuters, Desmarest, the former CEO of the oil giant Total, was opposed to the move, though he initially was planning to abstain from a vote during a Renault board meeting later this week.
The French automaker has told other members of the board that Desmarest’s sudden exit is the result of a newly discovered conflict of interest, the wire service reports.
But several other board members are also concerned about the appointment, questioning why other candidates, including Toyota’s European Didier Leroy, were not being considered.
But Ghosn’s relationship with Bollore goes back nearly three decades. Like the Renault CEO, the French-born executive previously worked at Michelin, joining France’s big tiremaker in 1990. He moved to automotive mega-supplier Faurecia in 2005 and came to Renault in 2012. He has had extensive experience abroad, including time in Japan while at Michelin.
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Despite the turmoil, sources tell TheDetroitBureau.com, there is little concern about Ghosn’s own role at Renault or what is now known as the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. Significantly, with the addition of the second Japanese company the alliance surged to become the world’s best-selling automotive group in 2017, narrowly toppling 2016 industry leader Volkswagen AG and solidly surpassing Japanese giant Toyota.