Business / Corporate

Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa to step down, report says

by Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writer

Nissan Motor Co. CEO Hiroto Saikawa, whose tenure has been rocked by a scandal leading to the downfall of one of the most charismatic leaders in Japanese business and raising serious questions over the company’s corporate governance, has expressed his intention to step down, the Nikkei business daily reported Sunday night.

After the fall of ex-Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, it was revealed that Saikawa and several other Nissan executives had received excess compensation.

Saikawa, 65, has told a few executives at the automobile giant that he is set to depart, according to the newspaper. The company is scheduled to hold a board meeting on Monday during which the issue is likely to be discussed, the report said.

Revelations that executives received excess pay via stock appreciation rights followed an internal investigation that was presented to a Nissan oversight committee on Wednesday. The findings will be reported at Monday’s meeting.

His resignation comes as the carmaker’s leadership faces immense pressure to turn around Nissan’s sluggish sales performance. For Saikawa, in particular, his departure comes amid concerns over accountability in restructuring the lackadaisical corporate oversight that was highlighted after the arrests of former chairman Carlos Ghosn and a former top executive Greg Kelly.

Saikawa on Thursday admitted that an equity-linked remuneration program operated by the automaker had overpaid him, but denied that he had ordered the payment. The company said it did not believe that he had broken the law.

According to media reports, he had received tens of millions of yen in extra payments in 2013 via what it was known as a stock appreciation rights plan. Directors would be eligible to receive a bonus had the share price risen.

Kelly alleged in a magazine interview in June that Saikawa deliberately delayed, playing for time when he could have executed that plan earlier in order to earn an additional ¥47 million ($443,000) in 2013.

Kelly, himself, is accused of conspiring with Ghosn to deliberately underreport Ghosn’s income to the authorities.

Ghosn was arrested on Nov. 19 last year after prosecutors alleged he mislead  authorities in reporting his income and misappropriated the company’s money for personal use. Both Ghosn and Kelly deny any wrongdoing.

Saikawa was among a handful of executives who were part of an internal probe that led to the arrests, and eventually prosecutions, of Ghosn and Kelly. Saikawa has denied any knowledge of their alleged misconduct prior to the internal investigation.

After their exit, Nissan divided its management and audit operations to reinforce corporate governance and prevent a concentration of power, which Saikawa said Ghosn had amassed.

Still, Saikawa’s grasp on power as CEO continued to decline as Nissan struggled to reverse mediocre sales.

Nissan in July reported a whopping 99 percent decline in operating profit in the first quarter this year and announced the cuts of 12,500 job by 2022.

Saikawa was appointed Nissan CEO in April 2017.

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