YOKOHAMA, Japan — Two months after being forced to resign as CEO of Nissan Motor Co. in a swirl of management scandal, Hiroto Saikawa remains unbowed and proud of his short term at the top.
The sidelined Nissan lifer feels that way especially about the tumultuous past year, a period riled by the arrest and ouster of his onetime mentor Carlos Ghosn, the near implosion of Nissan's 20-year alliance with Renault and a perilous plunge in profits at Japan's No. 2 carmaker.
To hear Saikawa tell it, few other executives could have navigated such troubled waters.
"For Nissan, it was good that I was, at that time, in charge. Because it's not easy to properly handle this situation," Saikawa told Automotive News last week, reflecting on a 42-year Nissan career.
"I am proud of what I have done," he said. "It should be appreciated."
Saikawa's career at Nissan, ending in his three-year tenure as CEO, was consistently overshadowed by the larger-than-life Ghosn. And there are regrets. Saikawa said he failed to push back hard enough against Ghosn's expansionist strategy.
But Saikawa was still the point man for some significant changes over the past 20 years.
He was boss when prosecutors set the trap for Ghosn at Tokyo's Haneda airport in November 2018. He led the battle against Renault's push for an "irreversible" integration with Nissan. And he fixed corporate governance to improve transparency and accountability going forward.
Crucially, Saikawa even tried to reverse several of Ghosn's signature business strategies — most notably the controversial and profit-eroding drive for volume and market share in the U.S.
But Saikawa was unceremoniously forced to stand down in disgrace in September, before completing his envisioned plan to revive the company and pick new leaders.
"Especially in the last year, I did a lot for Nissan. I myself believe I contributed a lot," Saikawa said. "But I did step down earlier than planned because it could be good to stabilize the situation. My plan was to hand over to a new generation after putting the company onto a recovery path."