Long before the downfall of his mentor Carlos Ghosn, Nissan Motor Co.’s Chief Executive Officer Hiroto Saikawa had pushed to win more power for the Japanese carmaker in its strained alliance with Renault SA. Now he has a chance to do just that.
Saikawa, 65, has emerged as the main winner from Nissan Chairman Ghosn’s shock arrest on Monday for suspected financial offenses, putting him in a position to re-balance what he and others at the Japanese company view as an increasingly lopsided partnership. Exactly how that might occur is unclear, but the idea of an outright merger between Renault and Nissan — a deal that Ghosn had advocated for over opposition from Saikawa and others — is almost certainly dead.
“It’s a coup. Ghosn’s era is over,” said Tatsuo Yoshida, an analyst at Sawakami Asset Management and a former Nissan employee. “Saikawa is in a position to represent anti-Ghosn sentiment that’s been building up for years within Nissan.”
A Nissan lifer who was elevated to CEO when Ghosn stepped back from the role last year, Saikawa has a reputation as a fierce defender of Nissan’s interests within its dealings with Renault.
The companies have been partners for almost 20 years, held together by a complex web of cross-shareholdings and joint manufacturing platforms — but most of all by Ghosn, a charismatic globetrotter who, until this week, was often cited as the most successful foreign executive in Japanese history.
But from virtually the moment Ghosn was taken into custody by Japanese police on Monday, Saikawa moved rapidly to show he was in control. Saikawa appeared alone at a late-night press conference just hours after the arrest, skipping the deep bow of apology that’s customary when Japanese companies admit wrongdoing