TOKYO – Nissan will keep Hiroto Saikawa as CEO in a reconstituted board that also gives Renault's top two executives seats, setting the table for possible friction in the automakers' alliance should shareholders approve the changes at next month's annual meeting.
Saikawa was nominated for reappointment to an expanded Nissan board as part of a sweeping slate of new directors that would also include Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard and CEO Tierry Bollore. Nissan announced the nominations in a news release on Friday.
The appointments must be approved at the annual shareholders meeting scheduled for the end of June. Nissan proposes that Saikawa be reappointed CEO at the board meeting afterward.
Saikawa's nomination comes amid increasing speculation about his eventual resignation and at a time of open discord about the future direction of the 20-year-old alliance.
The Ghosn scandal has stoked pressure on Saikawa to step aside amid criticism that he failed to flag Ghosn’s alleged wrongdoing and then let the business suffer under his watch.
At this week’s financial results news conference, Saikawa dismissed a question about whether he might resign. He said his first priority is reviving the ailing automaker.
He said he will pass the baton at the “appropriate time but cannot say when.”
Support from Renault, Nissan’s top shareholder with a 43.4 percent stake, may also be wavering. Renault has a keen interest in Nissan management, but Senard and Bollore will be the only two representatives from Renault on the reconstituted board.
Saikawa was frank about his deepening disagreement with Senard about the future of the alliance. Saikawa said the Renault chairman, who is also a director at Nissan, wants to pursue structural integration or a merger of the two automakers.
That's a non-starter for Saikawa, who wants to keep Nissan more independent. "Integration could actually undermine the internal strengths we have," Saikawa said. "I have been very consistently very negative against this. That's my position."
Among the boardroom changes announced Friday, Nissan would expand the board to 11 directors from the nine it had before last year's arrests of former chairman Carlos Ghosn and American director Greg Kelly on charges of financial misconduct. Seven of the new members would be independent outside directors.
Currently, Nissan has only three external directors: Jean-Baptiste Duzan, a former Renault executive thought to reflect the French carmaker's interests; Masakazu Toyoda, a former Japanese government bureaucrat; and Keiko Ihara, a race car driver.
The company wants an independent majority in line with the recommendations of an outside panel charged with improving corporate governance in the wake of the Ghosn scandal.
Duzan would step down, while Ihara and Toyoda stay on.
Outside directors joining them would include Bernard Delmas, chairman of Nihon Michelin Tire Co.; Andrew House, chairman of Sony Interactive Entertainment; Yasushi Kimura, an advisor at JXTG Holdings, and Jenifer Rogers, general counsel for Asia at Asurion Japan Holdings.