José Muñoz, the widely admired Nissan chief performance officer forced out in the wake of the scandal surrounding former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, is moving to South Korea, where he will become the global chief operating officer at Hyundai Motor Co.
The 52-year-old Muñoz was considered a rising Nissan star and a potential successor to Ghosn but tendered his resignation in January, sources told TheDetroitBureau.com, in protest over the Japanese automaker’s handling of the Ghosn investigation. The 65-year-old Ghosn remains in a Japanese detention center accused of a variety of financial crimes, though skeptics contend he has become the victim in a power struggle between Nissan and its French alliance partner Renault.
In his new post, Muñoz also will serve as president and chief executive officer of Hyundai Motor North America and Hyundai Motor America.
“José Muñoz has an impressive track record and is proven to be a visionary and motivational leader who is adept at all aspects of our business,” said Wonhee Lee, President of Hyundai Motor Co. “His decades of automotive and technology experience make him well suited for this new role as we move the company to the next step.”
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A native of Spain, Muñoz earned his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from Polytechnic University of Madrid and an MBA from Instituto de Empresa (IE) Business School in Madrid.
He started out as a car dealer in Madrid, from 1989 and 1996. And he previously had a link to the Korean auto industry, from 1996 to 1999 working with Daewoo – a company subsequently taken over by General Motors – on retail network development. He spent five years with Toyota before joining Nissan in 2004. He rose through the ranks, serving in increasingly high-level roles in Europe and then North America before moving to Japan in 2018 to service as Nissan’s chief performance officer and head of Chinese operations.
Those who know Muñoz have described him as “tough,” “demanding,” “brilliant” and “fair,” among other things crediting him with the significant gains Nissan achieved during his tenure as Chief Performance Officer and Chairman of North American operations from 2016 to 2018.
“He had a tough assignment but drove as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen,” said an executive reporting to Muñoz in the U.S.
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Though Nissan Chairman Ghosn never developed a clear line of succession, Muñoz was seen as a frontrunner. And he found himself in an awkward position when his mentor was arrested last November.
The Spanish-born executive was never seen as a participant in any of the crimes Ghosn has been accused of. But Muñoz found himself in an uncomfortable position when effectively put in position to direct an ethics investigation some felt was merely a witch hunt aimed at Ghosn loyalists at Nissan.
While Muñoz wrote on social media that he was willing to assist in an internal investigation, he also stressed that, “Unfortunately, Nissan is currently involved in matters that have and will continue to divert its focus.” He subsequently tendered his resignation.
Muñoz officially goes to work at Hyundai May 1.
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“I am excited to join Hyundai Motor at this vital time in its history,” he said in a statement issued by Hyundai. “My capabilities around delivering steady profitable growth, managing the entire supply chain, and working together with our dealer partners to find win-win solutions match up well with the opportunity here. I am eager to bring best global practices from the automobile and technology industries to my new role as COO of Hyundai Motor Co. and am honored to join this esteemed corporation.”