Flippant Remark Haunts Ghosn A Year Later

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

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.”

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href="http://www.tomokoandbertel.com"> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href="http://www.offshoresuperseries.com"> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

More by Bertel Schmitt

Join the conversation
4 of 7 comments
  • Robert Schwartz Robert Schwartz on Jun 21, 2012

    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.” Well, we are all on shorter leashes than that. The Good Lord can call us home whenever he wishes. 2017 is five years from now. I could get lucky.

    • See 1 previous
    • "scarey" "scarey" on Jun 21, 2012

      @SCE to AUX GM may not be in North America in 2017. Who knows ? They may fold up their tents and steal off to Shanghai in the night.

  • Unhittable curveball Unhittable curveball on Jun 22, 2012

    Ghosn is the preserver of the alliance as he is the only one from Renault respected by the folks at Yokohama, and that is why he didn’t lose his job after last year’s “spy scandal” that turned out to be a farce: there were rumors circulating in Paris that Nissan will leave the alliance if Ghosn is sacked – a rumor Nissan HQ didn’t exactly deny, and the powers to be at the Elysée panicked about that prospect and thus Ghosn lived but his COO Patrick Pelata was sacked as a scapegoat to please the gods.

  • Lou_BC Question of the day: Anyone actually care to own an old TVR?
  • Bd2 First, this was totally predictable. 2nd, Genesis already does have hybrids in the form of a 48V mild hybrid, but more performance oriented (supercharged and turbocharged), so not really helping with regard to fuel consumption. 3rd, Hyundai's hybrid systems don't really help as there currently isn't one that would be suitable power-wise and the upcoming 2.5T hybrid system would have to be heavily reworked to accommodate a RWD/longitudinal layout. 4th, it seems that Genesis is opting to go the EREV route with the GV70 the first get the new powertrain.
  • Bd2 Jaguar's problem was chasing the Germans into the mid size and then entry-level/compact segments for volume, and cheapening their interiors while at it.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Aja8888 I expected that issue with my F150 starting at 52,000mi. luckily I had an extended warranty and it saved me almost $8,000. No more Fords for me, only Toyota.
  • Lou_BC I saw a news article on this got a different read on it. Ford wants to increase production of HD trucks AND develop hybrid and EV variants of the SuperDuty. They aren't scaling back EV production. Just building more HD's and EV variants of HD's .