November 20, 2018 16:42 CET
PARIS — Renault Chief Operating Officer Thierry Bollore has won the backing of the French government to become interim CEO following Carlos Ghosn’s arrest in Japan over allegations of financial impropriety, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The French state is also expected to back lead board director Philippe Lagayette as non-executive chairman to fill Ghosn’s other role, said two people, who asked not be be named because the deliberations aren’t public.
Bollore has been seen as Ghosn’s heir apparent at Renault since February when he was promoted to chief operating officer. Becoming interim CEO would allow him to take over the day-to-day running of Renault.
Renault said Bollore is “specifically in charge of the continuity” of the company’s executive committee. All corporate governance procedures are “fully functional,” Renault said in a statement Tuesday. The statement did not call Bollore interim CEO.
Bollore, 55, a soft-spoken French national from Brittany, joined Renault in 2012 from car-parts supplier Faurecia, where he rose through the ranks to become vice president with responsibilities for global industry, quality and packaging. He started his career at tiremaker Michelin, working there for a number of years at the same time as Ghosn, who has called Bollore a “good candidate” to become Renault CEO.
Lagayette, 75, has been on Renault’s board since 2007 and leads the audit, risks and ethics committee as well as being part of the grouping that oversees executive compensation.
The French government has distanced itself from Ghosn, with Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire saying he was “not in a position to run the group.” Ghosn remains in custody in Japan and has not commented on the developments.
France is Renault’s most influential shareholder and is seeking consensus at a board meeting later Tuesday without imposing these recommendations, one source said.
Ghosn stands accused of under-reporting income of about $44 million and misusing company funds at Nissan, where he was also chairman.
The developments cast doubt over the future of the long-standing Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, held together by his towering presence. Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa told Renault board members Monday the company is expanding its probe to the alliance’s Amsterdam-based joint venture RNBV, three people familiar with the matter said, confirming an earlier Reuters report.
While the French government is seeking a change at Renault, “we will not demand his formal departure from the board for a very simple reason,” Le Maire said in an interview Tuesday with France Info radio. “We have no proof.”
Both Le Maire and his Japanese counterpart, Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko, reaffirmed their support for the alliance.
Ghosn, who was set to leave in 2022, had been laying the groundwork to ensure a future for the alliance, including the option of a merger. The setup has come under pressure from Nissan in recent years because of its lopsided balance of power in favor of Renault. Through complex cross-shareholding arrangements, Renault owns 43 percent in Nissan, including voting rights, while Nissan owns a 15 percent non-voting stake in Renault.
In a letter sent to Renault employees on Monday, Bollore expressed full support for Ghosn and pledged to preserve the alliance.
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