TOKYO: Carlos Ghosn’s status as an outsider in Japan brought him huge success, as his maverick style blew a gale through a musty corporate world, but his disregard of business norms may ultimately prove his undoing.
The man so embraced as the saviour of a once-stumbling firm that his life was made into an inspiring manga comic was Tuesday under arrest and facing allegations of financial misconduct — including under-reporting his huge salary.
The companies he rescued — Nissan and Mitsubishi — looked set to dump him as chairman and his legacy as a boardroom saviour lay in tatters.
Until this week’s dramatic events, the storyline had been one of almost unbounded optimism.
“Ghosn is likely the most successful foreign chairman in Japan,” said Kosuke Sato, a senior economist at the Japan Research Institute.
“What he did was unprecedented in Japanese corporate history.”
But that narrative was rapidly unravelling by Monday evening.
At a news conference hours after Ghosn’s arrest his hand-picked successor as Nissan CEO offered a revisionist history that minimised the role played by the Brazil-born executive in the automaker’s turnaround.
Hiroto Saikawa also referred to the “dark side” of Ghosn’s tenure, suggesting he had accrued too much power and had become far removed from the daily operations of the firm.
And he pointedly declined to offer the deep bow of apology that has become a standard part of any press conference involving a Japanese company acknowledging misdeeds by staff.
Ghosn ‘made enemies’
Japan’s media, who once feted Ghosn for his role in resurrecting Nissan and reviving the country’s auto industry, also pounced.
The financial Nikkei daily noted he had failed to cut short his holiday when an inspection scandal at Nissan broke in 2017, and the Yomiuri Shimbun described Nissan executives calling Ghosn “greedy”.
“He says the right things, but in the end it’s all about money,” the daily quoted employees as saying.
Corporate scandals are nothing new in Japan, but a case apparently centred on personal enrichment has left a bitter taste.
“Ghosn is a victim of his own hubris and success,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan.
“He was lionised for bursting through Japan’s fusty corporate culture, taking no prisoners, and now he is paying the price.