November 19, 2018 / 11:39 AM / 24 days ago

NEWSMAKER-Carlos Ghosn, the cost cutter with a big price tag

PARIS, Nov 19 (Reuters) - In his 40 years in the auto industry, the praise Carlos Ghosn has won for turning around businesses has regularly been matched by criticism over the amount he has been paid to do it.

In the latest furore over his finances, Japan’s Nissan Motor Co Ltd said on Monday it planned to oust Ghosn as chairman after alleging he had made personal use of company assets, among other acts of suspected misconduct.

The scandal comes just five months after the 64-year-old head of the Renault-Nissan alliance narrowly won a shareholder vote at Renault over his 7.4 million euro ($8.5 million) pay package for 2017, after losing a 2016 vote.

Brazilian-born, of Lebanese descent and a French citizen, Ghosn began his career in 1978 at tyremaker Michelin, before moving to Renault in 1996, where he oversaw a turnaround at the French automaker that won him the nickname “Le Cost Killer.”

After Renault sealed an alliance with Nissan in 1999, Ghosn used similar methods to revive the ailing Japanese brand, leading to “business superstar” status in Japan, blanket media coverage and even a manga comic book on his life.

As auto markets in western Europe and Japan struggled, Ghosn championed a cheap car for the masses in emerging markets and embraced the electric vehicle before many others.

He also never made it a secret that he believed there were too many carmakers in the world and consolidation would continue - in 2016 he added Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors Corp to the alliance.

But in recent months, attention has increasingly turned to how the complex web of cross-shareholdings between the alliance partners might be simplified to ensure it can thrive following the eventual departure of its main architect.

In March, sources close to the matter told Reuters the alliance partners were discussing plans for a closer tie-up in which Nissan would acquire the bulk of the French state’s 15 percent stake in Renault.

With Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper reporting on Monday that Ghosn had been arrested by Tokyo prosecutors on suspicion of under-reporting his salary, the alliance’s plans for the future just got more pressing. ($1 = 0.8752 euros)

Writing by Mark Potter Editing by Keith Weir

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