The secrecy of the negotiations and the boldness of the proposal — a 50-50 merger rather than a technology-sharing agreement, as some had speculated — are a testimony to Senard's discretion, as well as his willingness to consider creative new business combinations, supporters say.
"When he went to Renault, the benefit was that he was a respected figure," said Philippe Houchois, automotive analyst at Jefferies in London. "He was brought in to be a cool head." Another plus was his familiarity with Japan, home to Michelin's biggest competitor, Bridge-stone, Houchois said.
Senard's savoir-faire was on display last week in Tokyo, where he flew to persuade Nissan of the merits of the FCA-Renault merger. At first, the Japanese executives had many questions, he told Reuters, but by the end of their meeting the mood was positive, he said.
Even Saikawa, whom some Renault partisans accuse of orchestrating Ghosn's arrest to oust him from Nissan, seemed to be willing to give Senard the benefit of the doubt. After the meeting, he said he saw potential opportunities for the existing alliance in Fiat Chrysler's merger proposal, adding, "we don't consider this as a minus," Reuters reported.
Senard is also close with French President Emmanuel Macron, of whom he was an early supporter. It's a crucial connection, because the French government is the largest shareholder in Renault and must give its blessing to the FCA offering. Macron in 2017 reportedly offered Senard the post of employment minister in his administration.
In contrast to the globe-trotting Ghosn, Senard is little known outside France. Though he had never worked directly for an automaker, he has a long record of success at complex, global industrial enterprises that supply the auto industry, capped by his being named the first non-family member to run Michelin, the world's second-largest tire maker.
At Michelin, Senard led a program of steady expansion through acquisitions, last year buying Fenner, a maker of polymer products for the industrial market, for $1.7 billion and Camso, the Canadian off-road tire maker, for $1.45 billion. That has put Michelin, with about $24.5 billion in sales last year, in a position to challenge Bridgestone's decadelong run as the industry's leader.
"The Michelin he's leaving today is much more competitive, more profitable and has a stronger balance sheet," Houchois said. "There has been friction with some investors who wanted the company to move faster, but Michelin is a socially conscious company that won't 'slash and burn' to chase profits."
As CEO, Senard oversaw an ambitious plan for overseas growth, and avoided major scandals or corporate oversight issues. "Overall we haven't seen any governance issues at Michelin," Houchois said. "It's a well-run company that is fairly transparent."