Nissan appoints China boss Makoto Uchida as CEO

Nissan appoints China boss Makoto Uchida as CEO

Being a CEO at a company that has seen two top officials lose their jobs over a scandal in a single year isn’t going to be an easy task, and yesterday Nissan announced who will take on its unenviable job. The company has appointed current senior vice president and president of its joint venture with Dongfeng, Makoto Uchida, to succeed Hiroto Saikawa, who stepped down last month after admitting to being improperly overpaid.

Uchida will be joined by Mitsubishi chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta, who will assume that role at Nissan, while senior vice president Jun Seki will become vice-chief operating officer. The appointments will take effect no later than January 1.

“The board concluded that Uchida is the right leader to drive the business forward,” said board chairman Yasushi Kimura. “We expect Uchida to lead the company as one team, immediately focus on the recovery of the business and revitalize the company. We look forward to Gupta and Seki fully leveraging their expertise and experience to support the new CEO.”

Nissan appoints China boss Makoto Uchida as CEO

Uchida replaces Hiroto Saikawa, who admitted to being improperly overpaid

The appointment of Uchida comes as a pivotal time, as the embattled carmaker deals with falling profits, a management pay scandal – which has also toppled chairman Carlos Ghosn, who was arrested over financial misconduct – and the ensuing tensions with alliance partner Renault. At its time of need, the corporation has turned to someone who is apparently considered an outsider in Japan, according to Reuters.

The 53-year-old, said to be known for his work ethic and focus on cost cutting, was described by a long-time associate as a “Japanese person who isn’t really Japanese inside. Very direct in his language, to the point, easy to understand.” He is fluent in English and has worked with Renault on alliance procurement.

Head of Nissan’s nominations committee Masakazu Toyoda said Uchida will be instrumental in making quick decisions to steer the company back on course. “The biggest business challenge for Nissan is speeding up,” he said. “Speedy decision making is a challenge that Uchida raised, and to this end he said that he wants to empower people as much as possible, so we decided to ask Uchida to take on the CEO role.”

Nissan appoints China boss Makoto Uchida as CEO

Uchida will also need to repair strained relations with Renault. Ghosn was working on a merger with the latter before his ouster, but his plan met with resistance from Nissan, which wanted a less lopsided alliance and feared influence from France – the latter is a major Renault shareholder. Tensions further deepened when Renault held merger talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which was eventually scrapped.

The selection of Uchida was “a victory for the alliance”, said a source close to Renault, adding that both Uchida and Gupta were familiar with the business and ready to lead Nissan on the road to recovery. Another source close to the matter said that directors of Nissan – including those from Renault – voted unanimously in favour of the two executives.

“All three [appointees] are global citizens, attach importance to the alliance, and are motivated to speed decision making,” Toyoda said. As for France, its Government Shareholding Agency (APE) said it was delighted “with a unanimous decision that will allow Nissan and the alliance to move forward.”

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Jonathan Lee

After trying to pursue a career in product design, Jonathan Lee decided to make the sideways jump into the world of car journalism instead. He therefore appreciates the aesthetic appeal of a car, but for him, the driving experience is still second to none.




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