Late 2019, between October and December, would witness unprecedented comings and goings in Nissan and Renault that severely undermined their corporate governance. Faced with the vacuum created by the absence of Carlos Ghosn, who had been prevented from exercising his functions since 19 November 2018, both members of the Alliance were struggling badly on the leadership front.
Key players began to leave the Group, one after the other, however, those people who had been identified in helping to bring Carlos Ghosn down still held onto their jobs.
On 8 October 2019, Makoto Uchida was unveiled as Nissan’s next CEO. This appointment failed to mask the persistent divisions between Renault and Nissan high commands. A number of media outlets highlighted the continuing mistrust at the highest levels of the Alliance.
The following day, on 9 October, Reuters reported that Hari Nada had been demoted. In any case, this was the term used in the official press release: Hari Nada has been named senior adviser overseeing special projects, reporting to the CEO.
As Thierry Bolloré was making his way back to Paris after taking part in the Nissan Board of Directors meeting held on 8 October, along with Jean-Dominique Sénard, Chairman of Renault, he learned – not from Mr Sénard, but from a report in Le Figaro newspaper – that he was to be replaced as CEO of Renault.
According to Le Figaro, Thierry Bolloré was to be removed because of his close links to Carlos Ghosn.
Once he arrived back in Paris, Thierry Bolloré chose to defend his record in Les Echos newspaper:
“I am flabbergasted by the sheer brutality and unexpected nature of what has happened. I boarded a plane in Tokyo on Tuesday evening and, after getting into Paris at 4 am on Wednesday morning, I learned in the press that the Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard – who had always stressed that were on exactly the same page – wanted me out! I’ve always been loyal to him. The only thing that could possibly be held against me is that in early 2018, I was appointed Chief Operating Officer by a unanimous decision of the Board, based on the recommendation of Carlos Ghosn.”Thierry Bolloré – CEO Renault
Two days later, on 11 October 2019, Thierry Bolloré was indeed removed by the Renault Board of Directors, which appointed his CFO Clotilde Delbos as acting CEO of Renault.
This game of musical chairs failed to produce any clear-cut strategy – either for Renault or for Nissan – and each company in turn was forced to issue a profit warning. Renault kicked things off with a warning of a slump in its earnings on 17 October, before Nissan – which has a different tax year – announced the biggest drop in its sales in a decade in mid-November.
In the meantime, a number of executives began leaving the company in early November, including Philippe Klein, Chief Planning Officer for the Alliance, a key strategic development function. As Automotive News pointed out, he followed in the footsteps Danielle Schillaci, who took up a position as CEO of Brembo in early 2019, José Muñoz who is now COO of Hyundai, Roland Krueger who now heads up Dyson’s automobile division, along with Arun Bajaj, Trevor Mann and Vincent Cobbee, who has joined PSA group as CEO of Citroen.
Other senior executives were sidelined for the role they played in ousting Carlos Ghosn, including Hitoshi Kawaguchi, the Nissan executive in charge of relations with the Japanese government.
While the Alliance felt that it had taken care of its governance problems, it was having to contend with major strategic development issues.