Less than a year since the dramatic downfall of Carlos Ghosn, Nissan Motor Co is losing another leader.
Chief Executive Officer Hiroto Saikawa was asked by the board to step down by September 16. He’ll be replaced by Chief Operating Officer Yasuhiro Yamauchi until a permanent replacement is named by the end of October.
With Saikawa felled by a scandal over excess pay, the Japanese automaker finds itself in familiar territory, facing questions over its corporate governance and an uncertain future. In the months since Ghosn — the auto titan who ruled over Nissan for two decades — was arrested for allegedly under-reporting his own compensation and misappropriating funds, Nissan has struggled to bounce back.
Under Saikawa’s reign, Nissan distanced itself from his larger-than-life predecessor, while earnings deteriorated and relations with top shareholder Renault SA soured to the point that a mega-merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV collapsed.
Nissan’s next CEO will face the challenge of righting a ship in disarray at a crucial moment, with global automakers rushing to position themselves for the coming age of electric vehicles and robocars.
Pressure on Saikawa intensified following reports that he and other Nissan executives were paid more than they were entitled, dealing a final blow to the under-siege CEO. Amid the fallout from losing Ghosn, a leader who loomed large over the company for a generation, Nissan has also been grappling with decade-low profits and job cuts as car sales slow around the world.
“I should have clarified, ironed out everything and handed my baton over to a successor, but I couldn’t finish everything,” Saikawa said.
The Nissan lifer, 65, betrayed few emotions as he sat alone, taking questions after the board had finished explaining his departure. “I wanted to set things right and resign.”
The board’s nomination committee will select the
next CEO from a pool of about 10 candidates, said lead director Masakazu Toyoda.