New Nissan CEO faces fury from investors

News

YOKOHAMA, Japan — The ink is still wet on his contract as CEO of Nissan Motor Co. But last week Makoto Uchida faced furious investors for the first time in a trial-by-fire shareholders’ meeting that exposed discord over everything from the carmaker’s plunging share price and canceled dividend to its slow-going revival.

The gathering was supposed to be mainly a bureaucratic one to handle the administrative task of appointing the newly minted CEO and other executives to the company’s board.

But Uchida, who took office Dec. 1 and presided over the 2½-hour showdown, got an earful during a raucous question-and-answer period punctuated by angry shouts.

The 666 shareholders in attendance — largely older Japanese mom-and-pop investors — took Nissan to task for plunging sales, profits and stock prices.

They also sparred over Nissan’s handling of indicted former Chairman Carlos Ghosn, who jumped bail in Japan and fled to his ancestral homeland of Lebanon in December.

One investor proposed funding a ¥1.5 billion ($13.8 million) bounty to bring Ghosn back to face justice in Tokyo, where Ghosn had been awaiting trial on four charges of financial misconduct. Ghosn denies any wrongdoing, but his ouster triggered a year of disruption at Nissan.

Another investor even lashed out at French director Jean-Dominique Senard, currently Renault’s top representative on the Nissan board, for being driven away after last year’s shareholders’ meeting not in a Nissan-made vehicle but in an Alphard van, sold by archrival Toyota.

“I noticed it, and I was the first person to say, ‘never again,’ ” Senard assured the disapproving shareholder.

But attendees mostly focused their ire on Uchida, 53, for the sorry state of the company he inherited. One week earlier, Uchida reported that Nissan had slumped to a net loss in the October-December period, the company’s first quarterly red ink since the 2009 Great Recession.

At the same time, Uchida said the company was scrubbing Nissan’s year-end dividend.

The loss of the dividend was a big bone of contention for many shareholders, who have seen the value of their Nissan stock plunge 47 percent since the shock of Ghosn’s arrest on Nov. 19, 2018.

“What should I do about my Nissan shares?” asked one investor, incensed that Uchida owns less Nissan stock than he does. “I have more shares than you. You only have 2,000 shares, while I have 3,000.”

Some said Nissan’s revival plan was too little, too late. Others wanted pay cuts for the automaker’s top brass.

Uchida said his team is creating a restructuring plan that will be unveiled in May, in order to give Nissan time to coordinate next steps with alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi.

Uchida said the new plan will take into consideration possible pay cuts. And he staked his own job on brokering a successful turnaround, saying shareholders could can him if he fails to deliver.

“We will make sure that we steer the company in an effective way so that it is visible in the eyes of viewers. I will commit to this. If the circumstances remain uncertain, you can fire me immediately,” Uchida said. “You can count on Nissan to change for the better.”

Uchida also promised hard cuts in Nissan’s U.S. business. Actions already include voluntary buyouts across its U.S. operations, but Uchida hinted that more drastic measures are in store.

“The plan is underway today, fast,” Uchida said. “The direction we are following is not wrong. … We are going to reduce our expenses in North America with no taboos whatsoever.”

Uchida took the helm after CEO Hiroto Saikawa resigned last year amid a scandal over accepting excessive payouts under a stock-linked executive incentive program.

Saikawa stepped down in September and Yasuhiro Yamauchi, then the company’s COO, filled in as acting CEO until Uchida was plucked from his role as senior vice president in charge of Nissan’s China operations to lead the whole company.

“I’ve never heard of you,” one shareholder said bluntly, questioning whether Uchida has the chops for the job.

Uchida said more restructuring is needed. He said that may mean dropping certain products or regional businesses while leaning more on Nissan’s alliance partners.

“Declining sales had a significant negative impact,” Uchida said of Nissan’s crashing profits. “We are doing the right thing, and it is critical to remain focused. Yet, it will take time for the U.S. business to recover.”

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Tesla Enhanced Autopilot available in the United States and China
Genesis Electrified G80 launch delayed
Cadillac Celestiq Luxury EV May Cost Up To $300,000
2023 Chevrolet Tahoe
Awesomely Weird Alibaba Electric Vehicle of the Week: $4,500 Flatbed Electric Truck

Leave a Reply