Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Hiroto Saikawa will step down over a scandal involving inflated stock-linked bonuses, deepening the turmoil that’s enveloped the Japanese automaker since the arrest of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn.
Saikawa, Ghosn’s handpicked successor as CEO, will exit as of Sept. 16 after Nissan’s board voted unanimously to ask him to resign. He’ll be replaced on an acting basis by Chief Operating Officer Yasuhiro Yamauchi. A replacement will be named by the end of October, the automaker said in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on Monday.
Pressure on Saikawa intensified following reports last week that he and other Nissan executives were paid more than they were entitled to, dealing a final blow to the CEO who had spent the period since Ghosn’s arrest in November trying to right the carmaker. Amid the fallout from losing a leader who loomed large over the company for two decades, Nissan has also been grappling with decade-low profits and job cuts as car sales slow globally.
“I should have clarified, ironed out everything and handed my baton over to a successor, but I couldn’t finish everything,” Saikawa said Monday.
The Nissan lifer, 65, said: “I wanted to set things to right and resign.”
The board’s nomination committee will select the next CEO from a pool of about 10 candidates, said lead director Masakazu Toyoda. They include non-Japanese, women and people from Renault SA, Nissan’s biggest shareholder and partner in a global auto-making alliance with Mitsubishi Motors Corp.
An internal investigation by Nissan found Saikawa had been overpaid by 90 million yen ($841,000) via stock appreciation rights, including tax adjustments. Under the plan, directors receive a bonus if the company’s share price performs better than a set target. Other executives were also said to have received excess pay.
Although Saikawa’s leadership has come under scrutiny since Ghosn’s arrest for financial crimes, he was reappointed as CEO by Nissan’s shareholders earlier this year.
Nissan doesn’t consider the excess payment to have violated any laws, and Saikawa has denied ordering the payments, saying the matter was mishandled by staff.