Carlos Ghosn Planned to Replace Nissan CEO Before His Arrest – The Wall Street Journal

Nissan Motor’s board unanimously voted to remove Carlos Ghosn as chairman days after his arrest.
Nissan Motor’s board unanimously voted to remove Carlos Ghosn as chairman days after his arrest. Photo: regis duvignau/Reuters

TOKYO— Nissan Motor Co.’s NSANY -0.55% Carlos Ghosn was planning to replace Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa before Mr. Ghosn’s arrest in Tokyo last month, according to people with knowledge of the plan.

Mr. Ghosn was arrested Nov. 19 after his private plane touched down in Tokyo. Prosecutors say they suspect Mr. Ghosn underreported his compensation in Nissan financial reports. Mr. Ghosn hasn’t been charged with any crime and denies wrongdoing, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK. The office of Mr. Ghosn’s lawyer, Motonari Otsuru, has declined to comment.

Mr. Saikawa couldn’t be reached for comment. He has said he is focused on improving Nissan’s profitability over the longer term, and that has resulted in sales declines in the U.S. this year.

The dramatic arrest of celebrity-CEO Carlos Ghosn is rocking the automotive industry. After he was accused in Japan of underreporting his pay, Nissan offered one explanation: The man had too much power. Photo composite: Sharon Shi

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At the time of his arrest, Mr. Ghosn was Nissan’s chairman and still seen as the ultimate decision maker although he gave up the chief executive’s role at Nissan in 2017.

Mr. Ghosn had planned for months to shake up the senior management ranks at Nissan and had made known his plans to replace Mr. Saikawa, the people said. Any change in top management would have required board approval.

One of the people said that Mr. Ghosn told some associates he wanted to carry out his plan at a Nissan board meeting in November.

Instead, the board unanimously voted on Nov. 22 to remove Mr. Ghosn as chairman. He remains a Nissan director.

Mr. Ghosn was displeased with Mr. Saikawa’s decision-making and frequently took him to task for the company’s recent struggles in the U.S. among other reasons, people familiar with the disputes said.

One person familiar with the relationship between Messrs. Ghosn and Saikawa said the two men had differences over the business, but this person didn’t think it had reached a point where Mr. Ghosn would have contemplated removing Mr. Saikawa.

A Tokyo court has approved Mr. Ghosn’s detention through Monday. Prosecutors must decide by that day whether to indict Mr. Ghosn over the suspicions they initially cited in arresting him or release him. They could also opt to restart the detention clock by citing different suspicions as a basis to detain Mr. Ghosn.

Write to Sean McLain at