National

Carlos Ghosn's unusual Nissan perk: $601,000 Stanford tuition fees for his kids

Bloomberg

Nissan Motor Co. paid tuition for all four of ousted chairman Carlos Ghosn’s children when they attended Stanford University between 2004 and 2015, according to people familiar with the matter.

The perk was part of Ghosn’s employment contract from 1999, when he was hired as chief executive officer of the carmaker, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public. The benefit, which isn’t common among top executives, would have been worth at least $601,000, according to fee schedules published by Stanford during the years his children were enrolled.

In a statement, Nissan declined comment on the details of executive compensation packages. A spokesman for the family said Ghosn’s contract was approved by Nissan and also included payment of pre-university tuition fees. The children graduated at or near the top of their high school classes, he said. A spokesman for Stanford in California said U.S. law prevented the university from giving out information about tuition payments.

Ghosn, 65, has been charged in Japan with underreporting his income by billions of yen at Nissan and misusing company funds. He has denied wrongdoing and is awaiting trial on bail after spending 108 days in a Tokyo prison. The Stanford tuition adds to a list of lavish extras Ghosn enjoyed as the head of Nissan and its alliance partners Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., including luxury residences on four continents and a wedding party at the Palace of Versailles.

The advantage of wealth in gaining access to elite U.S. universities has emerged as a hot topic following recent allegations that rich parents bribed university administrators and coaches at top schools to gain admission for their children.

While no such payments are alleged in Ghosn’s case, it’s “highly unusual” that Nissan would pay his kids’ university fees, according to Robin Ferracone, chief executive of Farient Advisors, an executive-compensation consulting firm based in New York City and Los Angeles.

“Typically you only see tuition reimbursements as part of expatriate assignments, and those are for kids below university age,” Ferracone said.

Nissan’s official filings in Japan and the U.S., where its shares trade as American depositary receipts, didn’t include any information about Ghosn’s benefits. Under U.S. law, executives’ benefits are treated as taxable compensation, and U.S. public companies must report them to investors. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has opened an investigation into whether Yokohama-based Nissan accurately disclosed executive compensation. Nissan has said it is cooperating.

In Japan, companies are required to disclose compensation for highly paid executives in their financial reports but aren’t required to spell out the benefits they receive.

Nissan has said that Ghosn, besides collecting salaries totaling $16.9 million in 2017 from Nissan, Renault, and Mitsubishi, received $8.9 million in compensation from a Dutch joint venture, Nissan-Mitsubishi BV, without approval from either company. Two other Dutch-based ventures financed by the alliance are under scrutiny for buying and renovating luxury homes for Ghosn to use in Beirut and Rio de Janeiro, and for subsidizing an extended weekend at Rio’s Carnival celebration last year for Ghosn, his wife, and eight other couples.

Separately, Renault found that Ghosn received a “personal benefit” of €50,000 ($57,000) for his Marie-Antoinette-themed wedding party at Versailles in 2016 after Renault made a charitable donation to the chateau. Ghosn has said he’ll reimburse the expense.

The Renault-Nissan alliance also made philanthropic donations to a private high school near Paris attended by at least two of Ghosn’s children and to a debutante ball where two of his daughters were presented to society.

Ghosn’s eldest, Caroline, graduated from Stanford in 2008, followed by daughters Nadine and Maya, in 2011 and 2013, respectively, and son, Anthony, in 2015.

Renault made at least one charitable donation to Stanford. A university website lists the French company as a corporate donor during the 2016-2017 academic year but it doesn’t specify the amount given or whether any was given while Ghosn’s children were students. Renault didn’t respond to questions about any donations while Stanford confirmed one was made, but declined to provide details.

“Stanford regards gifts as confidential transactions between the donor and the university and we do not share information about a gift without the permission of the donor,” the university said in an email.

The donation was separate from another financial link between Stanford and Paris-based Renault, which has no commercial operations in the U.S. but has research labs in Silicon Valley near the university campus. Along with Nissan, Mitsubishi and 35 other companies, it’s an ‘affiliate partner’ at the Stanford engineering school’s Center for Automotive Research, founded in 2008. Each company pays $32,000 per year to support the center’s research.

Ghosn is a frequent public speaker. While he’s spoken at other universities, he made at least five public appearances at Stanford during the years his children attended. Those include speeches at the graduate school of business in 2007, 2010 and 2014, a presentation to an economic-policy research institute in 2011, and a talk at the Center for Automotive Research in 2013, according to the school’s website.