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'Work to be done' at alliance level -- Ghosn

Focus on future 'not just as a company' amid industry consolidation

Carlos Ghosn speaks to The Nikkei on Feb. 23.

YOKOHAMA, Japan -- With the auto industry consolidating, much needs to be done in terms of coordinating the alliance, Nissan Motor's Carlos Ghosn told The Nikkei during an interview Thursday morning at the company's headquarters, after it was announced he would step down as CEO

Q: Why are you making this change in leadership now?  

A: The reasons are very simple. I have to spend time with Mitsubishi Motors. When we announced that we were going to buy 34% share of Mitsubishi, and that I would be becoming the chairman of the company, I knew already that I have to dedicate some time for them. Our board should be renewed in the June shareholder meeting. So it is important to give visibility to shareholders as much in advance [as possible], before they vote.

The most important thing is that I trust the current co-CEO Hiroto Saikawa. I trust the team around him. They are all seasoned executives that I have been seeing over the last 18 years. I think Nissan is ready for a transition. It's a transition in continuity at a moment where the company is in very good shape. Nissan is profitable, financially healthy, with a clear strategy. So that's why we said now is the right moment to make the change with continuity.

Q: What will be your role in the entire alliance after you step down as CEO of Nissan?

A: Today, I am chairman and CEO of Nissan, chairman and CEO of Renault, and chairman of Mitsubishi. But also, particularly, chairman and CEO of the alliance. I spend a lot of time on synergies, convergence and commonalities at the alliance level, on top of making sure that each company is performing well.

There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of coordinating all the companies at the alliance level. This is something which is requiring more and more attention, not only between Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi, but also because this industry is consolidating, we need to continue to think about the future as an alliance, not only as a company.

I think after 16 years as CEO and 18 years taking care of Nissan, I can say today that what I can bring to Nissan has already been brought. Now I can support Nissan more as a chairman, and as chairman and CEO of the alliance.

Q: Being the chairman and CEO of the alliance, you may be involved in partnerships with other industries like IT (information technology) companies. Will that be your role as well?

A: There are new products and technologies like electric cars, autonomous driving, driverless cars and connected cars. It is part of my role to make sure that these technologies could breakthrough, are well analyzed, studied and prepared at the level of the alliance, so these technologies can be used by Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi to support their market offensive. So this is more an alliance's role, to make sure that the product of the future and the technology of the future is well prepared and well invested.

Q: With the new management in place, as a chairman, how far will you be involved in the business administration and management of Nissan?

A: I'm going to be a supportive chairman. I'm not going to do the job of the CEO. I'm totally intending to empower the team, let them run the show. But obviously challenging them on performance. Nissan needs to continue to grow. Nissan needs to continue to develop its profitability.

I am the guardian of the alliance, making sure that Nissan works well with Renault and Mitsubishi. The chairman's role is to make sure the company is well managed; that the governance of the company is impeccable; that the cooperation between the companies is going well. Don't expect me to be in the same job, it's a different job.

Q: It looks like the collaboration of the alliance has been totally reliant on you as an individual so far. But you will not be here forever. How are you going to make sure that cooperation continues, and build the succession plan?

A: When I promoted Saikawa to co-CEO a few months ago, I already had the next step in mind. But it's important to do in a way that is gradual, where people get used to the changes, and see that the performance of the company continues to be good. In business, what you say is not so important. It's what you demonstrate. Now I think I'm very confident that we will be making the demonstration through 2017 and 2018, and this is a good transition.

Interviewed by Nikkei staff writers Takeshi Shiraishi and Tsubasa Suruga 

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