The cost-cutting business whizz who comes with a big price tag

The scandal comes just five months after the head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance narrowly won a shareholder vote at Renault over his €7.4 million (S$11.6 million) pay package for 2017.
The scandal comes just five months after the head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance narrowly won a shareholder vote at Renault over his €7.4 million (S$11.6 million) pay package for 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • In his 40 years in the auto industry, the praise Mr Carlos Ghosn has won for turning around businesses has regularly been matched by criticism over the amount he has been paid to do it.

In the latest furore over his finances, Japan's Nissan Motor Co said on Monday that it planned to oust Mr Ghosn as chairman after alleging that he made personal use of company assets, among other acts of suspected misconduct.

The scandal comes just five months after the 64-year-old head of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance narrowly won a shareholder vote at Renault over his €7.4 million (S$11.6 million) pay package for last year, after losing a 2016 vote.

Brazilian-born, of Lebanese descent and a French citizen, Mr Ghosn began his career in 1978 at tyremaker Michelin, before moving to Renault in 1996, where he oversaw a turnaround at the French automaker that won him the nickname "Le Cost Killer".

After Renault sealed an alliance with Nissan in 1999, Mr Ghosn used similar methods to revive the ailing Japanese brand, 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.

 
 

As auto markets in Western Europe and Japan struggled, Mr Ghosn championed a cheap car for the masses in emerging markets and embraced the electric vehicle before many others.

He also never made it a secret that he believed there were too many carmakers in the world and that consolidation would continue - in 2016, he added Japan's Mitsubishi Motors Corp to the alliance.

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

Crossing borders and adapting to different cultures have never been a problem for Mr 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 Ecole Polytechnique engineering university.

He is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French and English, 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."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2018, with the headline 'The cost-cutting business whizz who comes with a big price tag'. Print Edition | Subscribe