A long line of reporters and cameramen was waiting to gain entry to the large conference room at Nissan Yokohama HQ this late afternoon. The event, Nissan’s half year results, usually is an intimate affair, not this time. Word had spread in Tokyo that Carlos Ghosn would make an unscheduled appearance at an event, where usually the CFO, or a corporate VP in charge of investor relations, rattles off the numbers before everybody goes home. Why was Ghosn in Yokohama when he was scheduled to be in S. Korea? The speculation was that Ghosn might announce that he would step down as CEO of Nissan, and finally put a Japanese in charge, an event no member of the Fourth Estate would miss.
Again, they were mistaken.
Ghosn announced that net revenues for the first half of the fiscal rose 14.7 percent to 5.2154 trillion yen, and that net income rose 6.5 percent to 189.8 billion yen. Nonetheless, in light of “sluggish market conditions in Europe, higher than expected product recall costs and volatile demand in several key emerging markets,” Nissan took guidance for the rest of the fiscal down a notch. The company still expects a net profit of 355 billion (USD 3.63 billion), up from JPY 342.4 billion for FY12.
While he was here and at it, Ghosn announced a management reshuffle. Instead of being put in charge, Nissan’s COO Toshiyuki Shiga, is saying sayonara to day-to-day operations, he receives a glamorous title of vice chairman, and handles the rather unglamorous areas of external affairs and corporate governance. He is being replaced by a committee, consisting of Hiroto Saikawa, Andy Palmer, and Trevor Mann, leaving the gaijin firmly in charge in Yokohama.
That audibly and visibly frustrated parts of the Japanese press corps. For years, some of them had been not so secretly plotting to send Ghosn back to Paris. In 2011, the Nikkei had reported as a fact that Ghosn would retreat to the post of chairman of a joint holding company. Not true. A year later, Bloomberg announced Ghosn’s imminent departure. Not true again.
Ever since, asking Ghosn the rather impolite question when he will retire became routine. Likewise routine became Ghosn’s standard answer that this is not his decision, but that of the shareholders, who clearly don’t want their golden boy to leave. Today, the impolite question was asked many times, and the routine answer followed in each instance.
However, trained Ghosnologists could hear new nuances today – if they were listening. Ghosn said that the company has cultivated a rich talent pool, deep enough to “replace anyone – including myself.” A little later, Ghosn mused that “luckily we won’t live forever,” that everybody needs to be replaced eventually, and that “there will be a time when I also will be replaced.”
When that happens, the industry will lose a rockstar.
P.S.: If you are looking for a real earnings report, Yoko Kubota of Reuters writes those much better than I ever will.