Carlos Ghosn, the auto world's 'cost killer'

Paris, France Updated: Nov 19, 2018, 09:40 PM(IST)

File photo of ex-Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

As head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, Ghosn has created an industrial behemoth, its combined 470,000 employees selling 10.6 million vehicles last year from 122 factories around the globe. 

Brazilian-born Carlos Ghosn, who is facing a pay scandal in Japan, has long stood out among the world's auto executives as a hard-nosed workaholic willing to take drastic measures to get companies back on their feet quickly. 

As head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, Ghosn has created an industrial behemoth, its combined 470,000 employees selling 10.6 million vehicles last year from 122 factories around the globe.

But the group now looks troubled after Japanese police reportedly arrested Ghosn on suspicion he failed to report his full compensation to stock market authorities as chairman of Nissan.

Nissan's board has said it will seek his removal after a months-long inquiry prompted by a whistle-blower uncovered "significant acts of misconduct."

It is not the first time Ghosn has gotten into hot water over pay, in particular a combined salary that makes him one of the highest-paid CEOs in France and one of the best-paid foreign executives in Japan.

Last year he denied a report the alliance was planning to pay hidden bonuses to its executives by setting up a company in the Netherlands.

And in February the French state, which owns a 15 per cent stake in Renault, forced Ghosn to accept a 30 per cent pay cut from the 7.25 million euros ($8.3 million) he took home as Renault CEO last year, calling the amount "excessive".

The government had already put its foot down in 2016, joining with 54 per cent of voters at Renault's annual meeting in refusing to authorise a  7.25-million-euro pay package.

The vote was overruled by Renault's board, but Ghosn later accepted a pay cut after Emmanuel Macron, France's finance minister at the time, threatened to step in with a new compensation law.

"Compensation is more scrutinised today than in the past," Ghosn told The Financial Times in June, but added: "You won't have any CEO say, 'I'm overly compensated'."

'Never accept interference'

Long nicknamed "Le Cost Killer" in France, Ghosn began his career with the tyre-maker Michelin and, after a early stint in Brazil, was quickly promoted and earned a reputation for turning around its North American operations.

From there, he was recruited by Renault in 1996 to work alongside then CEO Louis Schweitzer, where he helped return the company to profitability by making the former state-owned carmaker leaner and more efficient.

Just three years later, he was sent to head the newly acquired Nissan group with the challenge of doing the same thing within two years. He managed it within one.

The performance made him a hero in Japan, where manga comics are devoted to the suave businessman known for always being up before dawn after just six hours of sleep a night.

"A boss has to have 100 per cent freedom to act and 100 per cent responsibility for what he does. I have never tolerated any wavering from that principle, I will never accept any interference," he once said.

After restoring Renault and Nissan to sound financial footing -- in the process shedding thousands of jobs at each company -- Ghosn, who has French citizenship, quickly shifted into higher gear by pressing hard to develop electric cars.

More recently he has been focusing on reviving Mitsubishi, which secured a lifeline in 2016 from Nissan after it bought a 34 per cent stake.


Crossing borders and adapting to different cultures have never been a problem for 64-year-old Ghosn.

Born in Brazil on March 9, 1954, to Lebanese parents, he was reportedly able to distinguish types of cars at the age of five just by the sound of their horns.

At the age of six, he went to live in the Lebanese capital Beirut with his mother and attended a Jesuit high school there.

Later he moved to Paris where he picked up degrees at two of France's most elite schools, including the Polytechnique engineering university.

His Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French and English are fluent, and he has picked up a working knowledge of Japanese during his time at Nissan.

Yet he also fiercely guarded his personal time and maintains his ties with Lebanon, where he has invested in a winery.

"I do not bring my work home. I play with my four children and spend time with my family on weekends," he once told Fortune magazine.

"When I go to work on Monday... I come up with good ideas as a result of becoming stronger after being recharged."


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