TOKYO — For nearly two decades, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa had been the faithful protégé of high-flying frontman Carlos Ghosn. But that all came crashing to an end last week.
Saikawa is now using Ghosn's ouster to undo much of his erstwhile mentor's work at Nissan Motor Co. If it seemed the 65-year-old would be a transitional chief, he's suddenly talking like a transformational one, eager to get the carmaker back on track in Japan and the U.S.
To clear the way, Nissan's board removed Ghosn as chairman and representative director Thursday, Nov. 22. It also appointed a committee led by outside directors to further investigate Ghosn's alleged abuses, overhaul the company's governance and nominate a new chairman from the current board.
Mitsubishi Motors Corp., where Ghosn also is chairman, is expected to dismiss him from that role as well at an extraordinary board meeting this week.
"In one word, this is a soft coup d'etat," said Tatsuo Yoshida, a senior auto analyst at Sawakami Asset Management who worked at Nissan during the beginning of Ghosn's tenure. "There has been anti-Ghosn sentiment accumulating for a long time."
Saikawa launched his purge of Ghosn's legacy just hours after Ghosn, 64, was arrested in Tokyo for alleged financial misconduct. At a hastily called late-night news conference, Saikawa began by slamming his longtime colleague as the "mastermind" of "significant" fraud.
Saikawa then rebuked the disgraced chairman — long hailed for saving Nissan from bankruptcy — as a growing liability in recent years. He blamed Ghosn for dangerously concentrating too much power in himself, losing touch with daily operations and neglecting Japan.
"This is the negative side of Mr. Ghosn's long regime," Saikawa said of the man who landed at Nissan as COO in 1999 and led as CEO from 2001 until last year.
"He remained in power for many years. In real day-to-day operations, there seems to be a negative impact," Saikawa said. "These issues have become more prominent lately."