The succession of Louis Schweitzer at the helm of Renault looks like a textbook case written for the edification of MBA students the world over.
Scheduled for April 29, the handover of power to Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn was prepared well in advance and its execution has been flawless so far.
If there were any internal struggles, they have been muffled.
The clock started ticking in 2002, when Schweitzer publicly anointed Carlos Ghosn his successor-to-be. The appointment came after it was clear that Ghosn had turned Nissan around, fulfilling the mission Schweitzer had assigned Ghosn three years earlier.
The rescue of Nissan, which was on the brink of bankruptcy when Renault took it over in 1999, gives Ghosn the legitimacy he needs to run old, proud Renault. Hired from Michelin in 1996, Ghosn is, after all, a relative newcomer in the French company.
Schweitzer immediately defined his and Ghosn’s future roles – Schweitzer will become non-executive chairman; Ghosn will wield the executive power. Schweitzer got shareholders to change Renault’s organization structure to specify roles he and Ghosn will play. He also has publicly promised he will not spend more than one day a week at Renault.
Schweitzer should be busy enough to resist the temptation of meddling in Renault management after Ghosn’s return. A few months ago he became non-executive chairman of British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and he is head of the international division of MEDEF, France’s leading association of industry bosses. Plus, he was just named head of a newly created state-funded body that will help the victims of discrimination on the grounds of race, gender or sexuality.
To spare Ghosn the need to send heads rolling, Schweitzer masterminded sweeping changes in Re-nault’s top management last December. Most executives in their late 50s or early 60s have left, replaced by a new generation of people a decade younger. That’s closer to Ghosn’s age, 51.
Such a seamless transition will give Ghosn a running start. He has already mapped out his future. One thing is clear: He does not want to be hemmed in at Renault.
Sure, he will spend his first six months as Renault CEO observing the French company closely, “to see opportunities, strengths and weaknesses,” he said at a recent press conference. Once this is done, he will spend more time in Tokyo running Nissan and more time in the US running the Japanese carmaker’s vital North American operations.
“I will spend 40 percent of my time in Paris, 40 percent of my time in Tokyo and 20 percent in the global market, the US but also China, Brazil, eastern Europe and southeast Asia,” he said.
Ghosn also has been rejuvenating Nissan’s upper echelon. He just named Toshiyuki Shiga as Nissan’s chief operating officer.
Shiga, who became Nissan’s youngest managing director in 2000 when he was 46, had been given responsibility for the key Chinese market in 2003.
Ghosn will remain Nissan’s chairman and CEO. Ever mindful of Japanese susceptibilities, he rebuffed a suggestion that Shiga would take his orders from Paris.
“Leashes are not part of the tools we use,” he said. “This alliance is a partnership.”
Combined, the partners would rank as the world’s No. 4 in vehicle sales.
Deft management, which turned the partners into a global powerhouse, is now responsible for a smooth transition at the top – a rare feat in the car industry.
E-mail staff reporter Sylviane de Saint-Seine at