YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Nissan Motor Co. shareholders moaned about the stock price at the annual meeting on Tuesday, but applauded CEO Carlos Ghosn for the leadership that has made the Brazil-born Frenchman a celebrity in Japan.
Despite complaints about share performance and the automaker's proposal to boost directors' salaries, there were moments of light relief and the meeting ended on an amicable note.
Ghosn smiled when one elderly man opined that the 51-year-old chief executive deserved to get "all the compensation he wanted" but that the Japanese directors seated behind him on the stage were not worthy of the high remuneration.
Another shareholder asked about Ghosn's health, given his added responsibility as CEO of partner Renault SA as of two months ago, saying: "I hope you will remain CEO of Nissan for as long as possible."
Ghosn's popularity was palpable at a reception after the three-hour meeting. Shareholders scrambled to shake his hand, some asked for autographs and others posed at his side for a photo.
Ghosn -- and Nissan -- has come a long way since he took over Japan's second-biggest automaker in 1999.
At his first shareholder meeting as Nissan president five years ago, one shareholder chided him for not bowing properly; many doubted his ability to revive the debt-riddled company.
With bankruptcy worries long gone -- Nissan had an operating profit of 861 billion yen ($7.87 billion) last year -- Ghosn assured the 1,835 shareholders at the meeting that he remained committed to delivering further growth even as he begins to spend less than half his time in Japan.
"Although my responsibilities have broadened ... my commitment to Nissan has not changed," he told the meeting in the port city of Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo, which will become the site of the Tokyo-based company's headquarters from 2010.
Ghosn agreed with the view of some shareholders that Nissan's share price was undervalued, but he urged patience.
"The market always rewards high performers. It's just a matter of time," he said.
At a media gathering later in Tokyo, Ghosn said a high share price was the best defense against hostile takeovers, at a time when a series of rare takeover battles in Japan has fanned debate over defence tactics.
Some shareholders questioned the board's proposal to raise the ceiling of its directors' combined salary to 2.6 billion yen this year from 2.0 billion yen, even though the rise was attributed to the addition of two directors.
Critics said Nissan was already paying much more than its domestic rivals.
Ghosn countered that Nissan's remuneration policy was comparable to that of similarly sized companies outside Japan, and said high compensation was necessary to ensure a pool of talented managers.