May 23, 2019
By Naomi Tajitsu
YOKOHAMA (Reuters) – Nissan Motor Co is not considering the possibility of a merger with top shareholder Renault at the moment, and none of the nominees to the Japanese automaker’s board are pressing to make it an issue now, an external director said on Thursday.
As Nissan ponders its future without former chairman Carlos Ghosn, who orchestrated its financial rescue two decades ago, French partner Renault SA has been quietly maneuvering for merger talks, sources at both automakers have previously told Reuters.
France’s government has also weighed in, saying on Wednesday that the status quo was weakening the alliance and could not continue.
But given Nissan’s current focus on improving corporate governance and recovering from a run of poor results, Keiko Ihara, who has been overseeing efforts to overhaul governance, told Reuters in an interview that the issue of a merger was not on the table at the moment.
“We don’t have time to feel any of the pressure which appears to be coming externally,” she said.
“We’re not aware of any director nominee who wants to make this an official topic of discussion at the moment.”
Ihara, who also chairs a provisional council for an external nominations committee to be set up next month, said the process to find eventual successors to CEO Hiroto Saikawa and other executives would begin soon after the group is formed.
Saikawa, a protege of Ghosn, has come under pressure to lift Nissan’s dismal operational performance just as Renault has been looking at ways to merge the two companies, a move opposed by Saikawa and some of his colleagues.
Ihara also said that Nissan has a lot of internal talent from which it can choose its next generation of executives after an exodus of top-level officials following the ouster of Ghosn.
Nissan is overhauling its board structure and the way it appoints top executives and determines their pay as it seeks to improve its corporate governance after it accused Ghosn of financial misconduct.
Ghosn denies all charges against him.
Last week, Nissan announced a list of 11 nominees for its expanded board of directors, which include Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard and CEO Thierry Bollore, to be voted on by shareholders next month.
It also decided that Saikawa would stay on as chief executive though Renault had earlier pushed for a change in Nissan’s leadership.
“Once the nominations committee is up and running, it will start considering a succession plan,” Ihara said. She said the provisional council believed there were “dozens of people” within the company who could eventually take over as CEO, chief operating officer or other management positions.
“Nissan is a global company so it has a wealth of people who have deep global experience and expertise,” Ihara said.
(Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Anshuman Daga)