November 22, 2018 09:03 CET
PARIS — Renault Chief Operating Officer Thierry Bollore, named Tuesday night to take over Carlos Ghosn’s duties as CEO, is a relative newcomer to Renault, but he has deep experience in French industry, notably on assignments in Asia — and the backing of the French government.
The 55-year-old Bollore, whom Ghosn named to the No. 2 job only in February, was starting to emerge as the public face of Renault Group before news broke of Ghosn’s arrest on Monday in Japan on accusations that he violated Japanese financial rules. Bollore took a starring role in presenting key parts of Ghosn’s new five-year strategic plan, Drive the Future, last fall. In June, he announced the financial results at the automaker’s annual general meeting, a role that Ghosn had taken in previous years.
He has handled difficult issues for Renault, including the decision to end operations in Iran this summer after the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear accord and re-imposed sanctions, and defended Renault against accusations of diesel-emissions irregularities in 2017.
Reports in French news media describe Bollore, a native of Brittany, as polite, patient and willing to listen to all sides.
Top management changes under Bollore include the appointment this month of Francois Renard as director of global sales and marketing. Renard, who held a top post at Unilever, has no previous auto industry experience.
Bruno Le Maire, the French economic minister, called a news conference Wednesday morning to introduce Bollore as Renault’s temporary caretaker. “This governance is solid, and it guarantees that Renault will continue to function well as one of France’s industrial jewels.”
Like Ghosn, Bollore began his career at Michelin, after receiving an MBA at Paris Dauphine University. His management responsibilities at the tire manufacturer, which he joined in 1990, included heavy-truck business units worldwide as well as tire production in Japan and Thailand. He also served as vice president for Michelin’s aircraft businesses. In 2005 Bollore joined Faurecia, starting as a vice president based in China. He rose to become head of global industry, quality and purchasing at the French supplier.
In 2012 Bollore moved to Renault as executive vice president for manufacturing and supply chain and became chief competitiveness officer the next year. He was named chief operating officer on Feb. 19, 2018. Bollore also sits on the board of directors of Renault’s Russian subsidiary AvtoVAZ and Dongfeng-Renault in China.
Ghosn’s track record with earlier chief operating officers was mixed. Patrick Pelata, named to the post in 2008, left in 2011 amid the fallout from a bungled investigation into industrial espionage in China. His successor, Carlos Tavares, clashed with Ghosn after publicly expressing his desire to run his own car company, and departed in early 2013. After that, the No. 2 role was split between Bollore as chief competitiveness officer and Stefan Mueller as chief performance officer.
Ghosn was prodded by the French government, Renault’s largest individual shareholder, to prepare a plan for succession last year. He agreed to a 20 percent pay cut, to name a No. 2 who would eventually follow him, and to devote more time to thinking about the future of the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi alliance. Bollore’s elevation to chief operating officer came at the expense of Mueller, who stepped down from his post, citing health reasons.
The transition to Bollore was envisioned as gradual, with Ghosn handing off duties and putting in place plans to ensure that the alliance would continue after his departure. Ghosn himself said he was unlikely to serve out his full four-year term as CEO, expecting to have an exit strategy in place before it ended in 2022.
“When I was elected for a new mandate, I said this is going to happen sooner than later,” Ghosn told Automotive News Europe in an interview last month, “which means you can expect this to happen in the first part of my mandate.”
Bollore, Ghosn said, “is now the guy in charge to make sure that the day-to-day operations are being run well, not only within the budget but within the strategy.” “Obviously it means less involvement on my side,” he continued, “but at the same time I’m offering him guidance and support, if needed.”
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