Appointed by Schweitzer to head Nissan, Ghosn was the architect of that turnaround.
Today as planned, Ghosn becomes CEO of both Renault and Nissan. Schweitzer becomes non-executive chairman of the Renault board, a new title created for him. Symbolically, Ghosn gets Schweitzer’s old office overlooking the Seine. Schweitzer retains a secretary and an office in another building that was Renault headquarters in the 1930s.
Schweitzer says he plans a reduced role within Renault. His outside agenda reflects that. He chairs the board of Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
He also heads the international department of MEDEF, the French bosses’ association. He will be the full-time boss of a newly created state agency to fight discrimination, chair the annual theatre festival of Avignon, and sit on the board of the Louvre museum.
What is heartbreak for most chief executives – ceding power – Schweitzer has turned into an opportunity to indulge his passions in politics and the arts.
It has not always been smooth in the Renault-Nissan alliance, says a newly published book on the Louis Schweitzer years at Renault.
In “Renault, Une Revolution Francaise” published by JC Lattes, Le Monde auto writer Stephane Lauer chronicles how Schweitzer transformed the company since taking over in 1992.
Lauer describes a Renault that wants closer integration and more synergies with Nissan, and an independent-minded Japanese automaker that tries to keep the French company at arm’s length.
“Schweitzer quickly came to realize that it was impossible for the French to stick their nose into Nissan’s engineering, the Japanese group’s Holy of the Holies,” Lauer writes.
Carlos Ghosn and the team of French executives that came to Tokyo in 1999 have often sided with their Japanese colleagues, frustrating their Renault counterparts.
“Whenever Renault comes along with a joint project, Ghosn invariably asks ‘What is in it for Nissan?’” Lauer adds. That creates a mood of frustration at Renault, where people feel “they have given a lot and received little in exchange,” he writes.
Schweitzer’s 2001 move to tighten control over Nissan and discourage potential hostile takeover bids startled Ghosn, the book says. Renault built a complex holding-company structure in the Netherlands and Nissan bought 15 percent of Renault while Renault boosted its stake in Nissan to 44 percent from 37.
At first, Ghosn could not understand spending money on Renault shares when Nissan still had so many rebuilding needs, Lauer says. But Schweitzer prevailed.
With both companies unified under Ghosn, such management disagreements may end.