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'No time left:' Nissan No. 3 Seki explains decision to bolt

Passion shown by new boss at Nidec sealed deal for 58-year-old

Nissan Vice Chief Operating Officer Jun Seki speaks at a news conference in early December. (Photo by Karina Noka)

TOKYO -- Nissan Motor's vice chief operating officer said he chose to leave the carmaker -- where he was promoted to No. 3 just this month -- for a position at Japanese motor maker Nidec in part because the clock is winding down for him.

"I'm 58 years old, so there's no time left," Jun Seki told Nikkei. "I empathized with the passion and the dream conveyed by [Nidec] Chairman Shigenobu Nagamori and decided to change jobs."

Nidec's hard-charging founder wants to take in 10 trillion yen ($91.2 billion) in sales in fiscal 2030, or more than six times the company's current top-line number. He is looking for a successor to guide the motor maker to that goal, which will entail growing its electric-vehicle motor business.

Seki, an engineer who joined Nissan in 1986, is part of the automaker's new leadership team alongside CEO Makoto Uchida and Chief Operating Officer Ashwani Gupta.

At one point, he was seen as the top candidate to replace CEO Hiroto Saikawa, who stepped down in September after a pay scandal. But the nominating committee made up of outside directors tapped Uchida, who came over from trading house Nissho Iwai midway through his career, for the top position instead.

Seki said he will step down from Nissan as soon as mid-January.

Nidec founder and CEO Shigenobu Nagamori, a self-described "embodiment of micromanagement," has acknowledged his struggle to find a successor. (Photo by Kei Higuchi)

Seki decided to quit Nissan "around the 20th of this month," he said. "I thought I had to make the decision by the end of the year in consideration of Nissan choosing a successor and other factors."

Nissan had nominated Seki, Uchida and Gupta as directors for approval at an extraordinary shareholders' meeting on Feb. 18. The automaker said Friday it would replace Seki with Executive Vice President Hideyuki Sakamoto as a board candidate.

Seki, a longtime manager on Nissan's production side, has served as a manager in the U.S. and head of Chinese joint venture Dongfeng Motor.

Meanwhile, the 75-year-old Nagamori has been looking to hand the reins to a younger leader at Kyoto-area-based Nidec, the world's leading maker of hard-disk drive motors.

Nagamori, who calls himself "the embodiment of micromanagement," has a hands-on approach to say the least. Legend has it that when Nidec acquired music box and electrical component maker Sankyo Seiki Manufacturing in 2003, Nagamori checked every receipt at Sankyo down to the last yen of spending.

The company had over 10 billion yen in annual losses, but they were reversed to a record profit within a year and a half of the acquisition

Seki will be the third successor candidate that Nagamori has scouted from outside. Bunsei Kure joined Nidec in 2013 from Calsonic Kansei, then a Nissan-affiliated auto parts maker, but left in 2015. Last year Nagamori promoted Hiroyuki Yoshimoto, a former Nissan employee, to president and chief operating officer.

Yoshimoto looked to be off to a good start but in January, Nidec slashed its earnings forecast for the year to March 2019. Nagamori described it as "a decline we have never experienced." Yoshimoto acknowledged that he still had much to learn from the chairman.

"I've struggled for a decade over succession," Nagamori once said in an interview. "If there is a charismatic figure, that would be best. But there just aren't any, no matter how hard I search."

Seki's tenure at Nidec will start in February.

Additional reporting by Naoki Watanabe and Shuntaro Fukutomi.

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