Hiroto Saikawa, president and chief executive officer of Nissan Motor Co., speaks during a news conference in Yokohama, Japan. (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)

Nissan CEO Plans a Longer Tenure Than He Suggested

(Bloomberg) -- Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Hiroto Saikawa, who replaced ousted Carlos Ghosn and publicly accused him of financial misconduct, has said he has no intention of resigning anytime soon, despite signaling in January he would step down shortly, according to people familiar with the matter.

Saikawa told executives during an internal meeting he plans to stay at least three more years to help the automaker recover from the aftermath of the Ghosn scandal, one of the people said, asking not to be named discussing a private matter.

Nissan’s top executive made the comments about the length of his tenure to senior executives, soon after indicating at a Jan. 24 press conference that he’d give up the top job “as soon as possible,” according to the person.

A Nissan spokesman, Nicholas Maxfield, declined to comment beyond what Saikawa said at that press conference.

Regardless of Saikawa’s plans, there’s no guarantee he will stay on in the CEO role if the company’s performance takes a serious hit from the Ghosn scandal or there is some unforeseen legal exposure for the company.

However, cementing Saikawa’s position as the long-term head of Nissan could make it harder for France’s Renault SA to push for deeper ties with its Japanese partner. While Ghosn ran the boards of both Renault and Nissan, and was working toward combining the companies until his arrest, Saikawa has spoken strongly against a merger and has emerged as a defender of Japanese interests.

When Ghosn appointed Saikawa CEO in 2017, the former chairman said he had been grooming the Japanese executive for many years. Yet tensions emerged after an inspection scandal forced Nissan to recall a million vehicles and shut down Japanese production for two weeks. Ghosn criticized Saikawa, 65, for moving too slowly to address the crisis and implement an action plan, people familiar with the matter have said.

After Ghosn’s arrest, Saikawa condemned the alleged criminal behavior, calling it “the dark side of Ghosn’s long reign.” Ghosn subsequently blamed a conspiracy inside Nissan to oust him.

The time frame given by Saikawa for staying dovetails with the end of Nissan’s “M.O.V.E to 2022’’ mid-term strategy. That six-year plan intends to boost revenue to 16.5 trillion yen ($148.6 billion) and operating margin to 8 percent.

At the January press conference, Saikawa said he would “pass the baton’’ to new leaders “as soon as possible’’ after overhauling Nissan’s corporate governance rules. He said that was his responsibility after Ghosn’s Nov. 19 arrest for alleged financial crimes.

Ghosn denies the charges and was freed on bail March 6. His trial isn’t expected to start until at least later this year.

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