Jean-Dominique Senard, chief executive officer of Michelin & Cie., left, makes a statement after being named chairman of Renault SA as Thierry Bollore, chief executive officer of Renault SA, looks on during a news conference inside the headquarters of Renault SA in the Boulogne Billancourt district of Paris, France. (Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg)

Renault Splits Leadership Roles, Set for Alliance Without Ghosn

(Bloomberg) -- Renault SA named a new dual leadership team, hours after Carlos Ghosn stepped down as chairman and chief executive officer of France’s largest carmaker from a prison cell in Japan.

Michelin CEO Jean-Dominique Senard, 65, was appointed chairman, with responsibility for managing the alliance with Nissan Motor Co., Renault said. Thierry Bollore, 55, was named CEO, a role he has held on an interim basis since shortly after Ghosn’s arrest in November.

Ghosn’s downfall has shaken not only Renault, but also the partnership the globe-trotting executive held together for two decades. For Senard, mending the relationship between the companies and navigating the political crosscurrents in France and Japan will be among the biggest challenges. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. joined the partnership 2016.

“Nobody can imagine for the groups to act separately -- it is just impossible,” Senard told reporters in Paris on Thursday. He described the automotive alliance as essential and pledged to strengthen trust in the partnership.

Even as Senard spoke, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa welcomed his appointment and said he’s pleased to open a new chapter in the partnership. “Renault naming new leadership is a positive step,” he said at a press conference in Yokohama. “We believe we can have positive discussions going forward.”

The alliance members have said the pact is crucial to remaining competitive at a time of costly changes sweeping through the industry, from the decline of diesel cars to the enormous investment required for electric and autonomous vehicles.

Different Style

Senard brings a change of style to Renault. Cordial and soft-spoken -- some would say austere -- his demeanor contrasts with Ghosn’s bigger-than-life persona. He’s also in the good graces of the government, which had a sometimes rocky relationship with Ghosn. French President Emmanuel Macron called Michelin a “model company” last year, praising it for its frequent dialog with unions.

Bollore had been seen as Ghosn’s heir apparent as CEO since last February, when he was promoted to chief operating officer, and had been handling many of the day-to-day duties at Renault even before his boss’s arrest.

A soft-spoken Frenchman from Brittany, Bollore joined Renault in 2012 from car-parts supplier Faurecia SA, where he rose through the ranks to become vice president with responsibilities for global industry, quality and packaging. He started his career at Michelin, working there for a number of years at the same time as Ghosn, who called him a “good candidate” to become Renault CEO.

Renault Splits Leadership Roles, Set for Alliance Without Ghosn

For Ghosn, the resignation completes a fall from grace that began when police boarded his private jet shortly after it touched down at Haneda airport. He’s been in custody ever since, accused of financial misdeeds at Nissan that include understating his income by tens of millions of dollars and transferring personal trading losses to the company. Ghosn has denied wrongdoing.

Nissan and Mitsubishi ousted Ghosn as chairman days after his arrest. Renault kept him on at the company and as head of the alliance, citing the presumption of innocence. But as his incarceration dragged on and new allegations emerged, the carmaker and its most powerful shareholder, France, chose to move on. His lawyers have acknowledged he may stay in custody until his trial, which could be six months away.

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