Less than a week before Nissan’s stockholder meeting on the 26th at the Pacifico in Yokohama, Carlos Ghosn’s inner circle in Paris and Yokohama finds itself chasing a warmed-over rumor. Today, Bloomberg writes that “Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn is considering stepping down before the company’s next mid-term business plan begins in about five years.” A source close to Ghosn calls it “absolute nonsense and a yawner.”
The rumor is a year old and is based on a flippant remark that was lost in translation. A year ago, when Nissan presented its six year plan dubbed “Power 88”, freelance columnist and occasional Nikkei-contributor Ferdinand Yamaguchi had an interview with Carlos Ghosn. Ghosn wanted to talk about Power 88. Yamaguchi wanted to talk about the next mid-term plan, the one after 2017. Ghosn did not. After some back and forth, Ghosn, who has a reputation for not suffering fools gladly, said: “Why do you ask about 2017? Who knows whether I still will be around.”
That dismissive remark found its way into Yamaguchi’s book titled “Eigo Dake Dewa Dame Nanoyo” (something like “It’s not good to only speak English.”) A year later, the book becomes the source for Bloomberg’s story that says that Ghosn told Yamaguchi a year ago “that this would be the last midterm plan he would commit to and that it’s unlikely he would remain CEO in 2017.”
Bloomberg strung this together with a statement by Koji Okuda, a mid-level manager at Nissan’s public affairs department in Yokohama. Okuda is quoted as saying:
“Ghosn has said this is the last mid-term plan he’ll commit to, meaning he may not stay here for the next mid-term period. We need to prepare for his possible departure within a five-year period.”
My contacts in Paris say that every sane company must have succession plans, in case the CEO walks in front of the proverbial bus, and it must do this even more if there is a rock star like Ghosn on stage.
When there is planned succession that does not involve contacts with public transport, likely candidates and crown princes usually are being moved into the limelight. Nothing of that nature is noticeable at Nissan. At public appearances, Ghosn is a solo act. The few times Ghosn is flanked by Lieutenants like Toshiyuki Shiga or Colin Dodge, they usually don’t say a word. Then later, they privately sigh that “we have been decoration again.”
Ghosn is 58 years old, a teenager compared to his peers in the business. Dan Akerson was 62 when he started his job. Martin Winterkorn is 65. Ferdinand Piech is 75.
Carlos Ghosn is on a 4 year contract at Renault, which expires in April 2014. His current 2-year term at Nissan expires in March 2013.
Apart from Bloomberg, a whole nation can’t wait for Ghosn to step down at Nissan and Renault. Ghosn is a hero in Lebanon, home of his grandfather and where Ghosn went to school. Ghosn has been repeatedly asked to run for President of the Lebanon. His answer: “I have no political ambitions.”