Renault’s Delbos joins GM’s Barra in sparse ranks of female auto executives

Ania Nussbaum
Bloomberg News

Renault SA ’s promotion of Chief Financial Officer Clotilde Delbos to the carmaker’s top spot will make her the second most-powerful female auto executive after General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra — at least on an interim basis.

The French carmaker Friday ousted Thierry Bollore in a bid to move on from fractious months with automotive partner Nissan Motor Co. after the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, who led both companies. Turning over a fresh page, Nissan earlier this week named a new management team.

Renault’s new CEO, who joined the carmaker in 2012 and became CFO four years later, has been at the center of efforts to reshape the world’s biggest automaking alliance. She was part of the “Orange group” at Renault that pushed for a closer tie-up including a merger with Nissan, along with Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard. Nissan rejected even the idea of reviving discussions about a merger in April.

Clotilde Delbos, the new interim chief executive talks with Olivier Murguet, new interim Deputy Managing Director, left, before a press conference at Renault headquarters in Boulogne Billancourt, France, Friday, Oct.11, 2019. French carmaker Renault dismissed its chief executive officer Thierry Bollore with immediate effect, overhauling its leadership once again after the jailing of its previous chairman and CEO.

The 52-year-old also held roles within the partnership, taking charge of control and performance at the Renault-Nissan alliance in 2014. She and Senard both previously worked at aluminum producer Pechiney, which Delbos joined in 1992, climbing through various audit and finance-related roles over two decades. During that time, the metals company passed through the hands of Alcan, Rio Tinto and Apollo Global Management. Senard joined in 1996, and he was named CEO in 2003.

Auto companies remain a male-dominated fold. Aside from Barra, there are few other female leaders of major carmakers with operational responsibilities. Tesla Inc. named Robyn Denholm to chair its supervisory board last year.

At GM, Dhivya Suryadevara holds the CFO position, while at Daimler AG, Britta Seeger is head of sales. Volkswagen AG brand Audi this year named former BMW AG executive Hildegard Wortmann to its management board to lead sales and marketing. Linda Jackson is CEO of Peugeot’s Citroen brand. Other female board members tend to operate in human resources or governance roles.

Delbos will be flanked by two male deputies, Olivier Murguet and Jose Vincente de los Mozos, while the company seeks a permanent replacement. Senard’s responsibilities will be expanded to include oversight of stakes in RCI Bank, a motor joint venture with Samsung and other industrial and commercial companies.

Ghosn’s arrest over allegation of financial misconduct, which he denies, exposed poor corporate governance at Nissan and brought long-simmering tensions between the automakers to a boil. Removing Bollore, seen as a holdover from the Ghosn era, could help resolve their differences.