Nissan board to discuss new CEO, whistleblower’s fate
Nissan Motor Co.’s board meets on Tuesday with just a few weeks to go until the Japanese automaker’s self-imposed deadline to find a new chief executive officer.
At the top of the list are four leading candidates, people with knowledge of the matter said. Although the selection of a new leader is the top priority, the directors are also set to discuss the fate of Hari Nada, the whistleblower who was instrumental in the downfall of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn.
The intense focus on the board’s activities underscores the pivotal decisions it faces regarding the future of Nissan, which reported decade-low profits and announced 12,500 job cuts as it seeks to turn itself around. Auto sales are decelerating across the globe and new technologies from self-driving cars to electrification are disrupting the industry. At the same time, Nissan is working to repair and realign its relationship with top shareholder Renault SA, its partner in a global alliance with Mitsubishi Motors Corp.
“Nissan needs to escape from the current gridlock over executive appointments and decision-making,” said Koji Endo, an analyst at SBI Securities Co. “There is restructuring to be done at home and abroad, new vehicle development needs to speed up, while management coordination with Renault and efforts to improve profitability are in disarray. There are so many things to do.”
Nissan declined to make Nada available for comment. He didn’t respond to an emailed message seeking comment and couldn’t be contacted by Bloomberg News. A representative for Renault declined to comment.
Jean-Dominique Senard, Renault’s chairman, will attend Tuesday’s board meeting, people with knowledge of the matter said. He also serves on the nomination committee. The board has become more active after adopting a new governance structure earlier this year, and a month ago pushed out former CEO Hiroto Saikawa.
“Given the short timeframe for the decision that the board has set for finding a new CEO, every meeting is important,” said Janet Lewis, an analyst at Macquarie Capital. “Like Saikawa, Nada is viewed as part of the old guard,’ so requesting his resignation is a small positive. That said, the U.S. turnaround, and maintaining momentum in China, is what investors are most focused on.”
The board was set to discuss disciplinary measures for Nada, 55, who was recently implicated in a scandal at Nissan involving excess compensation in the form of stock appreciation rights. But pressure on him to leave the company has intensified in recent days, with the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times all reporting on his possible fate.
“Recently there have been speculative media reports regarding Nissan’s internal investigation into executive misconduct and SAR-based compensation. The investigation carried out by Nissan and third-party law firms was conducted rigorously and appropriately, following established processes. In addition, throughout the investigation, the risk of conflicts of interest was properly considered from a variety of viewpoints.” Azusa Momose, a Nissan spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “To avoid jeopardizing any forthcoming legal actions and considering the need to protect personal information, Nissan will not disclose further information nor comment further.”
Nada is cooperating with Japanese prosecutors under a plea-bargaining agreement in their case against Ghosn for financial crimes, people with knowledge of the matter have said. A lawyer who studied in the U.K. and Japan, Nada is a senior vice president at Nissan and worked in the CEO’s office under Ghosn and his successor, Saikawa. Nada is expected to be a key witness in Ghosn’s trial next year.
Although the board set itself a deadline of end-October to select a new CEO, it wants to complete the process by Oct. 23, the press day for the Tokyo Motor Show, the people said.
Makoto Uchida, president of Nissan’s China joint venture, Jun Seki, the former chief of Nissan in China, and Ashwani Gupta, chief operating officer of Mitsubishi Motors, were on the shortlist of leading candidates from a pool of more than 10 contenders, according to the people.