Renault said to ask Michelin's Senard to mend Nissan alliance as chair

Chief executive officer of Michelin Jean-Dominique Senard at the company's headquarters, in Boulogne-Billancourt.
Chief executive officer of Michelin Jean-Dominique Senard at the company's headquarters, in Boulogne-Billancourt.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (BLOOMBERG) - As Renault SA prepares to replace Carlos Ghosn, the auto titan who resigned last night, the tandem emerging to take over appears likely to split his responsibilities in line with the wishes of France, its most powerful shareholder.

Michelin CEO Jean-Dominique Senard, who's expected to be named chairman on Thursday (Jan 24), would also be charged with smoothing out the strained relationship with partner Nissan Motor Co, a person familiar with the matter said.

Mr Thierry Bollore, currently the interim CEO, would handle daily operations should his position become permanent.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said this week that the government favoured dual leadership atop the companies in which it holds a stake, with the chairman overseeing long-term strategic planning.

France owns 15 per cent of Renault, with extra voting rights and two seats on the board.

The first task of new management team "is to consolidate the alliance between Renault and Nissan", Mr Le Maire told Francine Lacqua in an interview on Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "I am sure the alliance will stay."

Ghosn has been in custody in Japan since Nov 19, when police boarded his jet shortly after it landed at Tokyo's Haneda airport.


He's been charged with understating his income by tens of millions of dollars at Nissan and transferring personal trading losses to the company. If convicted, he could face decades in jail. Ghosn has denied wrongdoing.

Ghosn's downfall has roiled the pact between Nissan and Renault that the globe-trotting executive held together for two decades.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp joined in 2016. All three companies have said the alliance is essential to remain competitive at a time of costly changes sweeping through the industry, from the decline of diesel cars to the enormous investment required for electric and autonomous vehicles.

Inside Nissan, operations and relationships with key dealers across the world are being reviewed as part of an expanding internal investigation into Ghosn's alleged misdeeds, according to people familiar with the matter. Hundreds of people including regional and legal compliance teams are participating in the probe, the people said.

Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa wants to convince investors he's addressing corporate governance shortcomings exposed by Ghosn's detention. The scandal may not be the last of its type in Japan, where companies need to address how they keep top executives in check, Mr Takeshi Niinami, CEO of liquor giant Suntory Holdings, said in Davos.

Nissan and Mitsubishi ousted Ghosn as chairman days after his arrest. Now Renault is expected to appoint Mr Senard and Mr Bollore as his replacements at a board meeting on Thursday, people with knowledge of the talks said.


Once Ghosn goes, the next step may be picking new leadership at the world's biggest automotive alliance.

On Tuesday, Mr Le Maire said the "absolute priority" for Renault's next chairman should be "strengthening the alliance and getting in touch with Japanese authorities".

Mr Le Maire previously has said that it's Renault's CEO who heads the Amsterdam-based venture that manages the partnership.

Still, Mr Senard would take the lead in handling alliance matters, said the person familiar, asking not to be identified discussing confidential matters.

Mr Senard would bring a big change of style to Renault. Cordial and soft-spoken - some would say austere - his demeanour contrasts with Ghosn's bigger-than-life persona. He's also in the good graces of the government, which has had a sometimes rocky relationship with Ghosn.

French President Emmanuel Macron called Michelin a "model company" last year, praising it for its frequent dialogue with unions.

The government assigned Mr Senard to write a report on how French companies can contribute to the general welfare.

The document concluded that companies shouldn't be accountable only to their shareholders, but also the common good. It advocated putting more employee representatives on company boards.


Should Mr Senard take the lead at the partnership, the role of Mr Bollore, who started his career with Michelin, would be somewhat less prominent.

Some Renault insiders have expressed concern that, as a former protege of Ghosn, Mr Bollore might be met with distrust in Japan.

Mr Bollore had been seen as Ghosn's heir apparent since February, when he was promoted to chief operating officer, and had been handling many of the day-to-day duties at Renault even before his boss's arrest.

At that time, Ghosn pledged to use his final four years as CEO focused on a plan to "make the alliance irreversible".

Mr Bollore, a soft-spoken Frenchman from Brittany, joined Renault in 2012 from car-parts supplier Faurecia SA, where he rose through the ranks to become vice-president with responsibilities for global industry, quality and packaging.

He started his career at Michelin, working there for a number of years at the same time as Ghosn, who called him a "good candidate" to become Renault CEO.

It's not just the government that speaks highly of the Michelin CEO.

Mr Franck Daout, a representative of the CFDT union at Renault, said, "we would be supporting Senard as the leader who handles the alliance".