Carlos Ghosn bets on China economy, calls on Japan to fix ‘outdated’ justice system
- The former CEO turned international fugitive says he is done with corporate life but is still watching the world of business, including China’s carmakers
- Ghosn, who fled the country in 2019 while facing financial misconduct charges, is releasing his memoir and is seeking to restore his legacy
Ghosn, 67, who ranked among the corporate world’s most celebrated leaders before his spectacular downfall, said China was transforming from a nation of fast followers to innovators at the cutting edge of emerging industries such as autonomous vehicles and electric cars.
“They are already the largest car market in the world. They now have companies competing on the world stage, whereas a few years ago they were really not very competent at all. They are investing in new technology.”
Ex-Nissan boss Ghosn in Lebanon after fleeing ‘rigged Japanese justice system’
Ghosn, who lives in Lebanon to avoid an outstanding Interpol notice for his arrest and extradition, said he believed China could avoid the stagnation that plagued Japan following its rapid economic rise by relying on its huge internal market and a “dynamism” absent from its East Asian neighbour.
“When you look at something like this in China, when you have a problem like this, they try to solve it. They try to bridge something. So there is a dynamism still existing in China. If this dynamism is lost, then you have to worry about it.”
“Would I trust that at the end of the day, they will keep the goose going on and at the same time control it?” he said. “If I have to bet, I would say yes.”
Telling his side of the story
Before becoming one of the most famous international fugitives, Ghosn earned the nicknames “Mr. Fix It” and “Le Cost Killer” for a storied career that included turning around Renault and Nissan from near bankruptcy.
His status in Japan loomed so large that his life was serialised in a popular comic book and he was once picked ahead of Barack Obama in a poll asking Japanese who they would like to run their country.
Today, Ghosn, who is promoting his new book Broken Alliances: Inside the Rise and Fall of a Global Automotive Empire, says he is happy living life at a different pace in Beirut, where he splits his time between ongoing legal fights with Nissan, media appearances, and personal pursuits including a lecturing gig at a local university.
“Corporate life as a CEO is a kind of military life,” he said. “You are scheduled from early in the morning to the night every day, you have to juggle all the time. It requires a lot of discipline, it requires a lot of dedication. And I think this life, I have done enough of it. I am done with it.”
Still, he is adamant about getting his side of the story out into the public domain.
“I wrote the book because for 13 months, Nissan, Tokyo prosecutors, parts of the Japanese government and their accomplices in France made a character assassination campaign without any response for my part,” he said.
“I am trying to clear my name and re-establish my reputation and my legacy.”
‘Antiquated’ legal system
Ghosn dismissed criticisms that he should have faced justice in Japan, which is known for having a near-perfect conviction rate.
“It means that when a prosecutor suspects you of anything, he wins in 99.4 per cent of the cases, and he is interested not to see what the truth [is] but just to have you confess,” he said. “That’s it, that’s the way it works.”
“Better than spending the rest of my life with the wishful thinking of a fair trial in Japan, I decided to leave.”
“I feel bad for all the people who are victims of the Japanese hostage justice system, but the responsibility for this is mainly the country itself,” he said. “The country has to clear itself from this antiquated system.”
He also regretted trusting colleagues at Nissan and not taking the opportunity to leave Japan sooner.
“In 2008, when I was offered the opportunity to be the CEO of General Motors by Steve Rattner, who was the car tsar of President Obama, I should have taken it,” Ghosn said.
“Another turn was when Renault asked me to go for another mandate in June 2018, I could have retired at that moment and nothing like that would have happened because I also could have retired from Nissan.
“In a certain way, I am not proud of having been the CEO of a company for such a long time that would show so little loyalty in a situation like this,” he added.
As for how he will be remembered, Ghosn believed his achievements in the corporate world and his stunning escape from Japan would stand the test of time.
“I probably have done the biggest turnaround in the car industry, particularly when you consider it was a foreigner doing a turnaround in Japan,” he said. “All the rest is complicated, petty stuff.”