The charges of financial impropriety against Carlos Ghosn are shockingly serious, but CEOs everywhere must be puzzling over Nissan's own condemnation of its chairman as he was being ousted last month.
The criticism was that Ghosn has been too powerful.
Too powerful! That's a curious summation of the man's career.
Ghosn has spent the past 19 years reorganizing Nissan's worldwide operations, reshaping its products, improving its agility, restaffing its management ranks to speed up decision-making, reducing the friction of slow-moving in-house suppliers and getting product planners to think bigger and more ambitiously. He formed an alliance between Renault and Nissan and got the companies to cooperate on saving billions of dollars in parts sourcing and manufacturing supply chains. He fought to keep the two companies distinct, fending off pressures to simply merge the automakers.
He lately has been prodding Nissan's and Renault's deeply rooted engineering establishments to find common ground on shared vehicle platforms. He acquired Mitsubishi — a brand that is far more significant outside of the U.S. market than inside — and pressed strategists to weave Mitsubishi into the group's global planning. He also pursued opportunities for future products with Daimler, such as the Nissan-based Mercedes-Benz X-class pickup that also will become Renault's first pickup.
Is there a CEO in the auto industry today who does not long for the kind of global authority Ghosn amassed through all his activities? How many irritating bottlenecks frustrate the plans of the average company boss? How many obstinate partners, slow-moving boards of directors, uninspired department heads and engineering experts are right now applying the brakes to new ideas and bold initiatives?
Ghosn's results have yielded a rare success among the industry's corporate link-ups. He achieved a multilevel balancing act that kept all parties engaged, while preventing them from killing one another.
If proved, the charges against Ghosn would clearly amount to an abuse of power.
But too powerful? In the unbending world of steel and glass and contracts and regulators, that doesn't sound much like criticism.