TOKYO — It was a trip to Japan that Carlos Ghosn had made countless times before in his role as the jet-setting alpha boss of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance.
But this time, as he unsuspectingly made his way through Tokyo's Haneda airport toward immigration control, his business trip would veer into anything but the ordinary.
According to people familiar with details of that fateful night a year ago on Nov. 19, the immigration officer did a double take at Ghosn's passport, then ominously asked him to step into a side room. Waiting there was someone from the Tokyo prosecutor's office.
Before the evening was over, a dumbfounded Ghosn was unceremoniously whisked to jail. People close to him say he wasn't allowed so much as a phone call — not to a lawyer, not to his secretary, not even to his daughter, who was waiting at his Tokyo residence when investigators soon raided the property.
Thus began a stunning year of scandal and upheaval that toppled Ghosn as one of the world's most esteemed business leaders, nearly derailed the Franco-Japanese auto empire he built over two decades and triggered a maelstrom of tumult at Nissan.
When Ghosn landed in Japan a year ago, he had a very different vision for what Nissan would be as 2019 drew to a close. According to those familiar with his thinking at the time, Ghosn was planning to move Renault and Nissan closer together under a new holding company structure that would be completed by June 2020. He was also pondering a management shuffle that would likely have removed his long-serving protege, Hiroto Saikawa, as Nissan's CEO and tapped a younger team of top brass.
Today, out on bail and awaiting a criminal trial, Ghosn privately bemoans the reduced state of business at Nissan, with its plunging profits and its fragile partnership with Renault, people close to him say. Ghosn, those people say, also has little confidence in the new leadership at the automaker alliance, doubting that the executives have the mettle to wrangle such a massive, complicated business.
That doubt applies to Jean-Dominique Senard, Ghosn's successor as chairman of Renault, as well as to Makoto Uchida, the man tapped as Nissan's next CEO, starting Dec. 1. One source says Ghosn dismisses the new consensus-driven leadership style that the alliance has adopted as "Santa Claus management."