Much also is being made about how much higher Ghosn's compensation was than that of other Japanese auto CEOs. True. But take the figures on the others' compensation with a hefty wad of salt.
There's a strong Japanese corporate mythology about how its executives are paid less than their Western counterparts. Ask one of those executives how much he's paid, and yes, he'll tell you a figure that is well below what an American in a comparable position is paid.
But don't stop there.
Ask him if that figure includes his semi-annual bonuses, and he'll usually say no, that's just straight salary. Yeah, well, those bonuses are typically the equivalent of two to four months' pay in the summer and three to six months' pay in the winter. And that's still not counting such perks as the company-supplied chauffeur-driven car, access to the company's ski lodge and so on. Yes, Japanese executives generally are paid less than their foreign counterparts, but the gap isn't nearly as large as they want to claim.
Even so, I can't help thinking of this as possibly another case of CEO greed, similar to what we saw with Ford's Alan Mulally. Both men rescued companies on the brink and earned handsome bonuses for doing so. Then they stayed on, running their companies during more normal times -- and the bonuses kept coming. They kept being paid as turnaround artists even after they became essentially caretakers.
Let's say Ghosn did under-report 10 million yen as 5 million yen. Isn't it worth asking: why wasn't he just making and reporting 5 million yen?
James B. Treece was Automotive News' Tokyo-based Asia Editor from 1995 to 2007.