September 20, 2019

Nissan Board Set to Meet as It Faces a Leadership Crisis

Nissan Board Set to Meet as It Faces a Leadership Crisis

Mr. Saikawa, who replaced Mr. Ghosn as Nissan’s chief executive in April 2017, survived a first push for his resignation after Mr. Ghosn’s arrest, saying he needed time to put the company back on track.

But in June, Greg Kelly, a former senior Nissan executive who was a top aide to Mr. Ghosn, accused Mr. Saikawa of receiving improper compensation himself. Mr. Kelly said in an interview that Mr. Saikawa had manipulated his stock-based compensation to increase his total payment. Mr. Kelly has been charged with conspiring to help Mr. Ghosn underreport his pay, but he denies the allegations.

Mr. Kelly’s accusations tarnished Mr. Saikawa’s credibility. Around the same time, two proxy advisory firms began a campaign to oust him from Nissan’s board over concerns about the company’s performance and his relationship with Mr. Ghosn.

He was reappointed with 78 percent of the vote, a relatively weak showing.

At the same time as the leadership problems, weakening demand for cars in Europe and North America, the company’s largest market, is crimping Nissan’s earnings. The company’s profit was 94 percent lower in April through June than it was at the same time last year. Nissan has said that it expects net profit to drop by almost 47 percent by the end of the current fiscal year in March.

Adding to the problems, Mr. Saikawa earned the ire of his French partners at Renault in June, when he frustrated the company’s efforts to merge with Fiat Chrysler, a deal that would have created the world’s largest automaker. Renault holds around a 43 percent stake in Nissan, giving it outsize influence on the Japanese company’s affairs. Nissan, however, holds only 15 percent of its partner, an issue that has long been a sore point for Mr. Saikawa and has weakened his hand in negotiations with the company.

Nevertheless, Renualt has continued to support Mr. Saikawa, even if through gritted teeth.

But that could change: Mr. Saikawa’s replacement will be chosen by a newly formed nomination committee, introduced as part of an overhaul of Nissan’s corporate governance approved at the company’s annual meeting in June. The group includes Renault’s chairman, Jean-Dominique Senard.

At a news conference in late July, Mr. Saikawa said that the committee had already begun its search for a new leader, and that he expected the process would take no longer than a year.

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