Renault Board Votes to Replace CEO Thierry Bollore
Clotilde Delbos, chief financial officer of Renault SA, speaks during a news conference to announce the automaker’s full year earnings in Paris, France. (Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg)

Renault Board Votes to Replace CEO Thierry Bollore

(Bloomberg) -- Renault SA named Clotilde Delbos interim chief executive officer after ousting CEO Thierry Bollore, as the French carmaker works to repair its partnership with Nissan Motor Co.

Delbos, currently chief financial officer, will take over immediately from Bollore, making her one of the highest-ranking women in the auto industry. Renault’s board will begin a search for a permanent replacement, according to a statement Friday.

Bollore had to go to revive the relationship with Nissan, Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard told reporters Friday. “New life into the alliance requires new governance,” he said. Bollore served as Carlos Ghosn’s No. 2 before replacing the fallen auto titan in January.

In naming Delbos, 52, Renault chose an insider to minimize further disruption at the carmaker, which has been struggling over the past year to overcome the shock of Ghosn’s arrest as well as a cooling of the global auto industry. She’ll be flanked by two new deputy managing directors, Olivier Murguet and Jose-Vincente de los Mozos.

Renault Board Votes to Replace CEO Thierry Bollore

The shuffle comes days after Nissan picked new leadership, suggesting both companies want to start fresh. Resolving their differences is a priority for Senard, who said Friday “there is no future for Renault without the alliance.” Solidifying the partnership would also be a prerequisite to reviving merger discussions with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, scrapped earlier this year after Nissan failed to back a deal.

The management overhauls “could be a catalyst for the alliance to review the attractiveness of any deal with FCA,” Citigroup analysts Raghav Gupta-Chaudhary and Angus Tweedie said in a note Thursday.

Renault shares rose as much as 4.5% in Paris trading, the biggest intraday gain since August, and were up 4.2% to 52.95 euros by 1:25 p.m. The stock is down about 3% this year.

Ghosn headed Renault and Nissan for years and held their two-decade partnership together until his arrest last November in Japan on charges of financial misconduct, which he has denied. His downfall exposed poor corporate governance at Nissan and brought long-simmering tensions between the automakers to a boil.

Bollore, 56, has had tense relations with Senard and had been viewed negatively by Nissan and the French government as a holdover from the Ghosn era, Bloomberg and other media have reported. The French state holds a 15% stake in Renault.

In an interview with Les Echos published on Thursday, Bollore condemned the move to oust him and defended his record. He said he found out through the press that Senard wanted him to leave and called on the French state, as a shareholder, not to destabilize Renault.

“The brutality and totally unexpected nature of what’s taking place are astonishing,” Bollore told the newspaper. “On an operational level, I don’t see where the fault lies.”

Speaking to reporters, Senard said neither Nissan nor the French state asked for Bollore’s ouster. Earlier this week, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the government had full confidence in Senard to pick the management team he needs to carry out Renault’s strategy.

Some analysts viewed Bollore’s abrupt departure as yet another unnecessary distraction for Renault at a time when the industry is facing weaker demand, fierce competition from new entrants like Tesla Inc. and a costly transformation to electric and self-driving cars.

“This comes as another blow for a company that urgently needs direction and stability,” Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst said in a note. “We are worried that Renault’s competitive position will further erode in an automotive world that’s getting tougher by the day.”

Head Hunter

The promotion of Delbos, while temporary, will make her one of the most senior female executives in the male-dominated auto industry after General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra. The French native joined Renault in 2012 and became CFO four years later.

One recruiting firm was already identified to carry out a search, said two people with knowledge of the matter. The company didn’t give a timetable for naming a permanent successor.

Following Ghosn’s arrest in November 2018, outsiders cited possible replacements including Carlos Tavares, a former Renault executive who is now CEO of rival automaker PSA Group, and Airbus SE’s former head of commercial aircraft, Fabrice Bregier, as well as Didier Leroy, a senior executive at Toyota Motor Corp.

“I’m not a candidate and I wasn’t contacted,” Leroy said by phone. “I’m very happy at Toyota and I have the trust of Akio Toyoda.” Toyoda is the president of Toyota.

The French government has been pushing Renault and Nissan for months to repair their broken relationship and strengthen their three-way alliance with Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa resigned in September following a scandal over pay, and this week the carmaker tapped Makoto Uchida, 53, the head of its China joint venture, as CEO, to work alongside new Chief Operating Officer Ashwani Gupta.

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