and I had a strong feeling of schadenfreude watching the TV this morning. The fact that the prosecutors are now going after his wife underlines that this whole case has been motivated by spite rather than any desire to see justice done.
One Other Thing Ghosn Doesn’t Want to Talk About
The closer the questions get to Nissan’s governance, the weaker his answers become.
Anjani Trivedi January 10, 2020, 7:00 AM GMT+9
Let’s not go there.
Photographer: Hasan Shaaban/Bloomberg
Anjani Trivedi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies in Asia. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal.
What was going on at Nissan Motor Co. for the last two decades?
With all his complaints about Nissan subordinates and the “depth of deprivation” he endured at the hands of the Japanese justice system, Carlos Ghosn didn’t really answer that at a news conference where he portrayed himself as a victim of human-rights abuses. Ghosn didn’t want to talk about his dramatic escape, of course, and again denied the charges leveled against him, including misuse of company assets and under-reporting his income.
Here’s what Ghosn really needed to address, and still does: Why was Nissan’s performance so poor for the better part of the last decade and why, if he was such a revered leader, didn’t he make the company a role model for corporate governance in Japan?
Ghosn showed himself to be good at deflection and blaming others. He accused his former protege, Hiroto Saikawa, of running Nissan into the ground as chief executive officer, a role shared with Ghosn from November 2016 to April 2017, after which Saikawa took the reins and his mentor continued to hold the chairmanship. The Brazilian-born executive, who had experience juggling top roles at Renault SA and Nissan for years, said he was moving on to help Mitsubishi Motors Corp. recover from a mileage scandal after Nissan completed its acquisition of a $2.3 billion stake.
But Nissan had been struggling well before then. Saikawa was taking over a company that was showing early signs of imminent trouble. Margins shrank to 11% by the end of 2017 from 16% in June 2010, coming down faster than some peers as the global market started peaking. Sales incentives coupled with dated models such as the Rogue and Sentra were eating into profits in the vital U.S. market and eroded the brand. Ghosn should have noticed the strategy was running astray. If anything, he was a man of targets, especially global market share and operating margins. Those often fell short. Saikawa said Thursday that he felt “betrayed” by the way Ghosn portrayed him.
Nissan's quarterly margins were volatile and deteriorated over the last five years, when Ghosn was still in power
This leads to corporate governance. If Ghosn was truly the corporate czar portrayed in books on management, something he touted from his Beirut podium, then why such poor results in reforming oversight at Nissan? The automaker resisted adding outside directors for two years after Japan introduced its governance code in 2015, one of 11 companies to hold back. As of 2017, it still hadn’t joined most international companies in creating committees on accountability and transparency. You’d think a pioneer would have been out front before the issue went mainstream.
And, crucially for a company ruled so long by one man, how much time was spent on succession planning when Ghosn moved on to fix Mitsubishi? Was it responsible for him to keep one foot squarely in Nissan while managing two other carmakers?
Nissan has lost billions in value since Ghosn was arrested in November 2018, which he blames on management’s preoccupation with him and apathy for shareholders. But Nissan had already underperformed Japan’s Topix 500 for years, while return on equity dropped between 2011 and 2016 — when Ghosn alone was in charge. It actually rose a bit after Saikawa assumed the joint CEO role.
Where Are The Returns?
Nissan's return on equity remained flat for much of Ghosn's reign
The legendary executive may have brought Nissan back from the financial brink as the millennium turned, but that didn’t seem to be his priority over the past 10 years. Cementing his legacy focused his mind on the alliance with Renault, and pulling off a new big, spectacular deal. Does anyone really believe that a merger of Renault and Nissan with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV was in fact viable, as Ghosn insists? It’s clearly a flawed strategy in a global market suffering weak demand and a poor success rate for large-scale mergers. Already struggling with culture clashes with Renault, would that have left Nissan in better hands?
And a final question: Where did Ghosn’s world end and Nissan’s begin? As with the likes of General Electric Co.’s Jack Welch, long-ruling, dominating CEOs often end up operating in gray areas. Ghosn made it abundantly apparent at his press conference, whether he meant to or not, that there wasn’t a clear line. Versailles, c’est lui.
Studies have shown long tenures hurt companies because the longer CEOs reign, the more reliant they become on internal networks and information, losing sight of market conditions.
Nissan executives were surprised Ghosn wasn’t able to explain his alleged misdeeds. For Saikawa, Ghosn “could have just said it in Japan.” Before Nissan can make perhaps an existential case with investors, it needs to shed the baggage of Carlos Ghosn. It’s far heavier than the musical instrument case he supposedly escaped in.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Have you not seen Japanese twitter? There is huge support for the prosecutors, people keep asking her to 'put forward Japan's opinion' in other languages lolIf someone says you hate Japan because of your opinions on the Ghosn case, that person is a racist. Avoid that person accordingly.
One of Ghosn’s lawyers, Francois Zimeray, issued a statement Friday directed at Mori that denounced her remarks:
“Allow me to remind Mori that since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted here, in Paris, in 1948, the presumption of innocence, respect of dignity and rights of defense have been essential components of what constitute a fair trial,” the lawyer said.
Very revealing article. 'Slip of the tongue', my arse!It seems a lot of people stayed up all night last Wednesday:
Justice Minister Masako Mori has backtracked on an inflammatory comment in which she said fugitive ex-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn should come to Japan to "prowww.japantimes.co.jp
Isn’t it alarming that even a Minister of Justice seems to be unable to grasp the basic principles of a fair trial?
And thanks @Deibiddo, Mrs Mori’s Twitter account is an interesting read.
Mrs Majestic thinks he's guilty as hell and escaping is proof of it while you have a certain regard for him for refusing to be a victim and shining a light on the Japanese justice system, regardless of his guilt or otherwise?This episode is causing some uncomfortable discussions around the Majestic dinner table.