By on July 19, 2010

Like most modern corporations, car companies tend to be extremely opaque. Only rarely do non-insiders like us get a peek behind the PR curtains of a major automaker, and when we do, we have to wonder why we’re getting the show… and what are we looking at, anyway? Just such a moment has arrived, as a tipster has pointed us to coolsprings.com, where an interview with a Nissan consultant based at Nissan North America’s headquarters in Tennessee appears to be literally overflowing with the kinds of juicy scandals, corporate gossip, and inside baseball that we so rarely see in print. But can the self-described whistleblower Sharyn Bovat be trusted? Is Nissan-Renault’s upper management really locked in a global struggle for control of the company? Do Tennessee taxpayers really pay for Nissan executives’ spa treatments? Did Nissan really relocate a number of employees from California to Tennessee, only to try to fire them shortly thereafter? This is The Truth About Cars, so we’ll proceed with caution… but this story is just too juicy to ignore.

Ms Bovat’s story would be complicated enough if it were simply the story of one whistleblower outing her company for a number of poor practices. Unfortunately, because the mainstream media has yet to pick up on the story, we have to piece the narrative together from one interview and a number of Ms Bovat’s own postings at her websites, thegirlintheblackhonda.com, sharynbovat.com and nissanwhistleblower.com. Moreover, at the time of publication, TTAC has not been able to obtain official comment from Nissan, Nissan North America, nor have we yet spoken to Ms Bovat. As we follow this story, we will make all attempts to fill these gaps… in the meantime, here’s what we’ve been able to put together.

Bovat’s accusations against Nissan are far-reaching, and touch nearly every aspect of the company’s corporate culture. But from what we’ve been able to determine, her story begins with the relocation of Nissan First Executive VP Carlos Tavares to Tennessee. Ms Bovat, a corporate relocation consultant, was brought in to manage Mr Tavares’ move to Tennessee, and she ended up becoming a personal conduit between Nissan’s Tennessee staff and Mr Tavares.

Ms Bovat frames much of her discussion of Nissan’s internal politics as her struggle against an “Good Old Boys Network” inside Nissan’s North American operations. According to her account, this “alliance” based in Franklin, TN, had schemed to oust Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, and “set up” Tavares for failure. Throughout her many writings on the subject, it’s clear that Ms Bovat saw a “Good Old Boys Team” squaring off with the “Ghosn Team,” and that Tavares was being sent to Tennessee to head off the plotting of the “Good Old Boy Team.”

Whether this deep corporate battle is actually under way isn’t entirely clear, but Ms Bovat certainly didn’t hesitate to send her thoughts to Tavares, and in the process exposed a number of questionable practices. For one thing, she found that Nissan’s credibility on matters of diversity were being hurt by the “Good Old Boys,” who she alleges protected their personal backers during personnel cuts, resulting in a 30 percent reduction in the number of women in leadership roles.When she confronted Nissan’s HR team about possible discrimination, Bovat was reportedly told that “skirts don’t talk.”

Another symptom of cronyism inside Nissan NA, according to Bovat: Californians who had relocated to Tennessee in 2006-07 were supposed to be the first fired in last year’s staff-trimming, despite the fact that they’d moved their entire families from the West coast for the company. According to Bovat, her decision to pass this information to Tavares prevented the firing of these relocated employees.

From there, we turn to Bovat’s interview with coolsprings.com for the rest of the story:

After she “saved the Californians”, NISSAN’s HR Director called Bovat into four meetings. She sensed HR wanted to “get rid of her”, although she knew Tavares appreciated her efficiency and honesty. During one of those meetings, the Director of NISSAN HR asked Bovat to do something unethical to prove she was a team player. She refused. Bovat knew if she wanted to work for NISSAN she would have to comply. Bovat told Tavares, who then referred her to the HR Director’s supervisor Mark Stout, the head of NISSAN HR. In a later meeting on the executive floor, Mark Stout offered Bovat money to be silent. Instead of “cashing in” she told Tavares about HR being unethical.

Starting June 4 2009, Bovat has documented and stated the allegations on her public blog. Since then, Bovat says she has been harassed and slandered by NISSAN HR. Bovat wanted to keep quiet and expressed to Carlos Tavares that she wanted to return to work at NISSAN. Several months ago, Tavares emailed her to relay that things were proceeding.

Becoming frustrated, Bovat ended up writing an open letter to the ACLU, accusing Nissan “Good Old Boys” of wasting taxpayer money, discrimination, and insider land deals. She wrote:

Initial investigation shows that some land deals were done before Nissan made the announcement to relocate to TN so I believe that is called “insider” information.  After talking to an “asset” investigator I learned that easily a “bunch” of these good ole boys could be taken down.  If the state did an “audit” of all real estate transactions starting 8 months prior to Nissans official announcement, then property could be seized that was obtained with insider information and then sold and the proceeds could go back to the community.

On July 7, Bovat went in person to Nissan’s US headquarters in search of answers. Instead, she was arrested for criminal trespassing. Bovat tells coldsprings.com:

Rob from Nissan legal bullied the Franklin police into arresting me, using a year old, outdated photocopy of a cease and desist originally intended to intimidate me and to shut down my blog

Now released, Bovat insists that she will keep her blogs up until Tavares asks her to take them down. Since her arrest, Bovat appears to have tried to contact Tavares, but she says that she was threatened with further charges if she persisted in contacting Tavares. And that, as far as we can tell, is where the case stands.

Which leads to the really big question: what to make of all this? Bovat makes a convincing case for internal problems with discrimination, backed by internal Nissan data that confirms the 30 percent reduction in female managers. The core of her claims, that a Tennessee-based group of insiders are actively fighting against Carlos Ghosn and his deputy Carlos Tavares is more compelling and less well-documented. We have yet to find proof that anyone at Nissan benefited from land sales based on inside information about Nissan’s move to Tennessee, or that the move to Tennessee was dreamed up as a way to entrench a cabal in Nissan North America’s leadership. Nor does Bovat document any misuse of taxpayer money for executive relocation to Tennessee, instead forcing the curious to take her at face value.

There’s a lot of dirt to dig through here before we get to the truth, but one thing is for certain: somehow or another Nissan North America’s veil of corporate opacity has been broken, and the internal dynamics that are showing through do not look healthy. Bovat dedicates part of her site to quotes from Nissan employees, and they certainly don’t make the picture sound any prettier. The fact that this controversy has bubbled up this far without attracting ,much attention from the mainstream media is telling: we will continue to dig into this story, and we welcome any tips from workers inside Nissan North America who wish to weigh in on Ms Bovat’s claims ([email protected]).

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37 Comments on “What The Foxtrot Is Going On At Nissan?...”


  • avatar
    threeer

    Is TTAC jumping the shark a bit here? I’ve come to count this place for a more grounded view of the automotive scene. This smacks of sensationalist journalism and comes across as more tabloid story-telling than factual reporting…

    • 0 avatar

      I’m just trying to make sense of the story here while I line up more details. I’m not taking any part of this at face value, and I’d be the first to admit that I’m short on facts… I hope that was made clear enough in the piece.
      My main reason for not dismissing this out of hand is the fact that Ms Bovat was willing to get arrested, and yet refuses to sue Nissan for anything because “it would just make it about the money.” Ms Bovat claims that her main interest is in improving Nissan, and short of sheer kookery (always a possibility) it’s hard to explain why she went to all this trouble otherwise.
      I would not suggest that my brief, confused summary is in any way the whole truth of this situation… as I point out, there’s a lot more digging to be done.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      K.O.O.K.S. = Keepers Of Odd Knowledge Society ;P

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Don’t forget folks, this is filed under WTF and WARD. And extremely deserving of it. If any of it turns out to be true, OH BOY but it’s just a lot of smoke at this point.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I can’t see Ms. Bovat subjecting herself to years of employment pain, and finally arrest, just for fun. I think there is something to it.

  • avatar
    european

    ARE YOU FOOKING KIDDING ME?
    THIS IS NEWS? THIS SHOULD BE POSTED…ANYWHERE??

    DID YOU READ HER BLOG? THAT WOMAN IS CRAZY!!!
    SHE ACCUSED NISSAN OF TRYING TO BRIBE HER, STALK HER
    (SOME MR BLACK MURANO) AND WHAT NOT.

    MY GUESS IS SHE WAS PROMISED A PROMOTION FOR A “FAVOR”
    AND DIDNT GET THE PROMOTION. NOW SHE’S ANGRY AND WANTS REVENGE.
    TYPICAL.

    TTAC HAS FALLEN SO LOW. YOU ED ARE NOTHING CLOSE TO RF. RF WAS TALKING SH!T AND WHAT NOT, BUT HE HAD STYLE AND HE BELIEVED IN HIS
    OWN CRAP. YOU ON THE OTHER HAND JUST POST BS, JUST TO HAVE CRAP ON THIS SITE.

    HOW ABOUT SOME REAL NEWS STORIES. STORIES THAT YOU FOR INSTANCE DIDNT COVER. HMM, LIKE….

    1)PSA investing $900mil in India and the implications of it
    or
    2)the new BMW X3 and facelifted 3series
    or
    3)Nissan investing $600mil in MExico


    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      Whoa..dude, take a pill. Is there a full moon or something?

      As far as RF goes,if he was still here,you woudn’t be . So calm down man, before Edward finds RF’s old ban button.

    • 0 avatar
      european

      @mikey

      i know you got a personal interest that the japs got
      problems. i understand, it’s all about your livelihood.

      but this one could be filed under “wishful thinking”

      btw, what’s wrong with some “fighting the good ol’ boys at TTAC”
      DONT YOU WANT TTAC TO BE BETTER?
      HAHA

    • 0 avatar
      dkulmacz

      Carlos, is that you? Call me!

    • 0 avatar
      mythicalprogrammer

      I was so engross in the juicy details and stuff until I read european’s comment. I went to her website and I was like, “Ok….” o_O? This ain’t so bad, and then there are dozen pictures of her, crazy fonts, weird ramblings, shift_this, shift_that, patriotic, taxes, blah, and then there’s a picture of her pasted on Sarah Palin’s book. -_-;; It feels like she’s not all there mentally. It also feels like she trying Glen Beck and Sarah Palin’s tactic to get people to buy into her agenda/crusade.

      Anyway, hopefully Nissan can answer this. If Nissan didn’t do what she’s accusing them, then this is totally libel and slander, which isn’t protected under our first amendment.

      Please don’t waste ACLU’s time for crazy stuff. Crazy stuff is fine, but when it borderline libel and slander… then you get punched by Buzz Aldrin => http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uhT3SwNHa4

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      Eurodude…

      Irony much?

      In that one insane rant, you come off as batsh*t crazy as she does.

  • avatar

    Euro, perhaps you should calm down. This woman may be off her rocker to an extent, but that doesn’t mean her claims should be completely dismissed. There might be something going on at Nissan NA that the more….credible….sources won’t be privy to until months or even years afterward.

    BTW, going stark-raving-nuts in ALL CAPS isn’t gonna do your credibility any good.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    I for one would like to know what’s going on inside Nissan USA as Hyundai prepares to gun for the passing lane.

    As for the other international news stories, I’d like to hear about PSA in India, etc etc as well. Yeah, I can log into my Global Insight newsfeed, but I’m pretty sure TTAC will cover these whenever it can.

    As for Nissan NA, though, I think there’s a fire under all the smoke.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      @mtypex “As for Nissan NA, though, I think there’s a fire under all the smoke.

      Ditto. The explosive viciousness of the assassination of her character, suggests there’s at least a kernel of truth.

  • avatar
    dhathewa

    Ed N,

    Interesting story. I’ll be curious to see how it develops. Thanks for calling our attention to it.

  • avatar
    Runfromcheney

    If there turns out to be substance to these claims, Carlos better gear up for housecleaning #2.

  • avatar
    tbp0701

    I’m not sure about this, either. Nice job piecing together bits of rants and information from various sites, but I’m uncertain to the validity of any of this. As you stated, of course, you aren’t, either. I can say that, in working with high level people in several industries–including automotive–there is not a shortage of people who are simply insane and make outrageous claims, so I don’t think anyone should rule out the “kook” possibility just from her position. I might have liked to think that most companies like this have reasonable, intelligent people at high levels, but it is rarely the case. I also use to work for a company and got to experience the clash between French and US management styles. The disparity surprised me, even when the two are attempting to work together.

    Finally, when dealing with anything like this, I’ve almost always found that there is something there, but it’s never as bad nor outrageous and one party claims, but it’s also never as innocuous as the others typically attest.

  • avatar
    holydonut

    This woman needs to learn to post things on Wikileaks instead of … I dunno … on her own personal blog.

    I doubt anything formal will come of this in the press. Unlike real business news that can actually impact the stock price, this bit of sensationalism is a small PR hiccup destined for the Drudge and other dark reaches of no-name news sites.

    The issues discussed here are hardly specific to Nissan. Are people really naive enough to think that corporate America is not a “good ol’ boys club?” I don’t care what type of optimist HR person you are – you’d have to be completely clueless to believe in a world where corporations are run by compassionate altruists. These guys didn’t get to be business leaders because they were apathetic and wishy washy. They beat down people weaker than themselves and are always extolling their own greatness.

    They’re not going to let “some skirt” actually ruin their club, and they’re definitely smart enough to talk their way out of any serious allegations. After all, the corporate judge and jury consists of good ol’ boys as well.

    I doubt Tavares is going to issue a public statement on this matter since he has a car company to run. The plight of individuals is rarely a consideration of the C-level group.

    If you’re brave enough to relocate your family due to some semi-crappy corporate package… you had better be prepared to see if your skills are highly transferable to other companies or industries.

  • avatar
    european

    it’s hilarious how she got 2 (later she claimed 4) legal
    letters and then proclaimed they are VOID coz nissan lawyers
    are “part of the problem” (her own words)

    and that didnt ring any bell???

    C’MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON

  • avatar
    european

    PRICELESS:

    “About 3 weeks ago I kept seeing your truck and Sir it’s not the typical Starbucks car demographic.
    My first thought when I saw your truck was Huh, the second time I saw your truck I thought this guy couldn’t be looking at me??? The third time I “thought” nobody would be dumb enough to watch me, driving a NISSAN Titan truck. Then I tried to tell myself it’s a coincidence, but the truck didn’t “fit in” with the luxury sedans and SUVs, Then I thought HELLO Mississippi is 50th in education”

    please read the rest @
    http://girlintheblackhonda.com/-_Man_In_Red_Titan_Truck.html

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Reading her rants, it really is a lot of gobbledygook, some of which points to illegal or unethical behavior, but most of which is petty. She needs to hire a lawyer who is knowledgeable in business law to educate her on which of these allogations is meaningful. Then, she needs to figure out her own motives and what exactly she is aiming for. Is it money, fame, or just to air greivances? At present, she isn’t being too successful at any of these.

    And finally, she needs to let go of the phrase ‘old boys network’ if she is going to get anywhere in the South.

    • 0 avatar
      holydonut

      IMO her random font changes and general website tone reeks of the garbage you see on sites talking about how the moon landing was fake. These types of sites rarely offer legitimate insight; they are merely the outlet for extreme whack-jobs to find some common theme to form conspiracy theories.

      I think TTAC should avoid that type of “journalism” since it has no merit in any rational discussion about business, industry, or management. Tabloid conspiracy topics and posts with images of booth babes seem to be trolling for hits, and don’t seem to do much for this site in terms of valid content.

      Like a true marketer, Bertel was quick to point out that dry posts about industry musings turn only few hits. In contrast, a post with the image of a booth babe in it got multiples more traffic. The conclusion is that he rationalized TTAC’s audience is here to see the babes and cares less about industry news.

      At least at that time the Booth Babe offered insights about auto shows and marketing/pull-demand. Now it’s about how girls are turned off by dirty cars.

      Maybe it’s time to find another outlet for legit auto news. It doesn’t seem like there’s much value sifting through the ramblings of an HR employee or an ad for Baruth’s eBay auction. Even the core news is flawed with the intentional editorial desire to constantly compare TARP money with government credits for investment and research. They chide a single automaker for taking advantage of the latter even though all automakers have taken advantage of those government benefits.

      I don’t think the site values critical thinking as much as during its inception. Now they need to pander to investors who demand ROI and revenue driven by volume. They’ll come up with dozens of reasons to rationalize how their new direction is driving great demand in spite of deviating from the core franchise that made it successful. Sound like GM much? I’m sure metrics around a rousing Nissan scandal will be better than a post about the industry trends in China. The metrics tell you the site needs more scandal. What do your investors tell you?

    • 0 avatar
      european

      @holydonut, +100

      well said.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    If this turns out to be nothing, or at least not what it appears to be, Ed will be the first one to say so. And if Ed didn’t bring this curiosity up, and it ends up being a major story, then someone would be griping that TTAC got pwned.

  • avatar
    boosterseat

    As I read your preamble I was already surprised that you published any of this.
    Isn’t trying to put the facts together what writers do PRIOR to publishing, as opposed to after?
    You haven’t spoken with anyone involved yet?
    Isn’t this the site that relentlessly pokes jabs at Bloomberg for sourcing ‘people close to the source’?
    In the future, please dig and then post, in that order. There are enough sites that dwell in speculation and I don’t care to visit them.
    You are better than copy&paste. A bad call for a good website.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    While working as a grad student at Nissan HQ for 3 months hardly qualifies me to pass judgement, it seems pretty unlikely that there is much truth here. I can all I can say with certainty is that nearly all of NNA’s “layoffs” were contract workers– they really didn’t show more than a small handful of VPs and directors the door, so I don’t quite buy, nor did I ever sense, the extreme sexism portrayed here.

  • avatar
    michal1980

    I see how you guys play around here:

    Make an over the top accusation, with nothing more they hersay. Then say, because the hersay accusation is over the top we need to invisetage.

    hmmm.

    maybe the big 3 which were ripped on by TTAC, should accuse you of being bought by the foregin car companies. Make lots of ranting posts about it.

    And because the accusation is damning we should invesigate TTAC, because who knows… If they really did something bad, well then it would really be news.

  • avatar

    What a complete lunatic. I clicked over to her “black Honda” blog and skimmed a few posts. I think I figured out why nobody is listening to her. Her problem, however, could be that Nissan HR was poisoning her water.

    I feel bad for anyone at Nissan who has to deal with this woman. It must be extraordinarily annoying.

  • avatar
    moedaman

    Hmm, firing people who transfer to a new location is hardly new. My father worked for a company in the early sixties that was bought out and moved from Detroit to Cleveland. They offered to move anyone who wanted to stay with them to Cleveland. My father declined and found another job in the Detroit area. After the operation was established in Cleveland, they layed off all of the transplant workers and kept the lower pay new workers.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    I find it rather intriguing…you’re welcome to leave at any time eurotrash.

  • avatar
    PickupMan

    Ed:
    first thing I’d clarify…is/was she a relocation consultant (ie: external) or a regular Nissan employee (insider).

    If the former, then it’s unlikely she truly knows jack about what is going on inside (and won’t be hired by anyone else for anything).

    Discretion does not appear to be her strong suit.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Shift_Good Ol’ Boys
    Shift_Cronyism
    Shift_Californians
    Shift_Scandal
    Shift_Whistle-blowers
    Shift_Uzi Nissan
    Shift_Female Managers
    Shift_Opacity

  • avatar
    Tricky Dicky

    Well, IMO, even a person who is ranting, lacks discretion or judgement, can still raise some interesting points, even if they are made badly or indiscretely. I’ve had jackass consultants working for me who really believed they were doing the best for the company by trying to get in and raise their concerns directly with the President…. cue phone call from President’s P.A. to walk the guy off-site.

    I was discussing the appointment of Jim Press the other day with a guy who used to be high up in the Renault hierarchy, and his feeling was that this was Carlos Ghosn’s way of p1ssing someone off in Nissan NA or he had a real problem to be resolved that needed an experienced but ‘clean’ pair of hands to deal with it. Hmmm.

    Smoke and fire relationship…

  • avatar
    Tricky Dicky

    Mind you, just had a look at those 3 websites. “Kooky” would be a bit generous! I imagine she is a very challenging personality and she really seems to project a “NEED to be heard”. Given that she worked as a consultant for the HR division doing relocation activities, I can’t imagine she would have any meaningful and consistent contact with ‘el numero uno’ exec Tavares.

    Which is not to say that NNA doesn’t have problems with a Tennessee hegemony, abuse of power, insider knowledge or an inclination not to value the capabilities of women in the company (which is different from which other Japanese auto firm?!).

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It’s interesting how many people don’t seem to understand the value of presentation. It’s not restricted to crazy people**, either. Anyone sufficiently self-centered tends to make the same same mistake.

      A common trait shared by both the self-important and the delusional is a lack of empathy. They’re not very good at considering how other people perceive them. The might be concerned about it, but they’re so self-centered that they’re unable to get outside their own head. We’re not talking about self-confidence, either: there’s a difference between being confident in your ability and opinion and being a pathological narcissist.

      ** I’m not saying she’s crazy or lying, but she probably shares the, ah, personality traits I see in a number of people who, eg, design their own PowerPoint presentations when they really, really shouldn’t

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