PARIS—French car maker Groupe Renault has confirmed the appointment of Michelin CEO Jean-Dominique Senard as its new chairman and Interim CEO Thierry Bollore will be the new CEO to replace Carlos Ghosn, who's in custody in Japan under suspicion of various compensation manipulations.
Senard, with the backing of all participants in Michelin's governance system, has agreed to take the Renault post, effective Jan. 24. He will continue to serve as Michelin CEO until his term expires in May, when Florent Menegaux—Senard's designated successor—will assume the CEO's job officially. He already has taken on an increasingly significant role in steering the group in cooperation with Senard, Michelin said.
Renault's board of directors has decided to give the new chairman "full responsibility" in liaison with the CEO for managing the Alliance with Nissan Motor co. on behalf of Renault, the French car maker said.
As Renault replaces Ghosn, the emerging leadership tandem likely will split his responsibilities in line with the wishes of France, its most powerful shareholder.
Senard, Michelin's CEO since 2012, will be charged with smoothing out the strained relationship with partner Nissan, a person familiar with the matter said. Bollore, who was serving as interim CEO, will now handle daily operations as permanent CEO.
Renault's board met Jan. 24 to appoint new leadership following the resignation of Ghosn after 14 years as CEO and a decade as chairman.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said this week that the government favored dual leadership atop the companies in which it holds a stake, with the chairman overseeing long-term strategic planning. France owns 15 percent of Renault, with extra voting rights and two seats on the board. A Renault spokesman declined to comment.
"(Mr.) Senard would make an excellent chairman" for Renault, Le Maire told BFM TV on Tuesday, underlining the government's esteem for the 65-year-old executive.
Ghosn, 64, has been in custody in Japan since Nov. 19, when police boarded his jet shortly after it landed at Tokyo's Haneda airport. He's been charged with understating his income by tens of millions of dollars at Nissan and transferring personal trading losses to the company. If convicted, he could face decades in jail. He has denied wrongdoing.
Ghosn's downfall has roiled the pact between Nissan and Renault that the globe-trotting executive held together for two decades. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. joined in 2016. All three companies have said the alliance is essential to remain competitive at a time of costly changes sweeping through the industry, from the decline of diesel cars to the enormous investment required for electric and autonomous vehicles.
Nissan and Mitsubishi ousted Ghosn as their chairman days after his arrest.
Le Maire said the "absolute priority" for Renault's next chairman should be "strengthening the alliance and getting in touch with Japanese authorities."
Le Maire previously has said that it's Renault's CEO who heads the Amsterdam-based venture that manages the partnership. Still, Senard will be expected to take the lead in handling alliance matters, said the person familiar, asking not to be identified discussing confidential matters.
Senard stands to bring a big change of style to Renault. Cordial and soft-spoken—some would say austere—his demeanor contrasts with Ghosn's bigger-than-life persona. He is also in the good graces of the government, which has had a sometimes rocky relationship with Ghosn.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Michelin a "model company" last year, praising it for its frequent dialogue with unions. The government assigned Senard to write a report on how French companies can contribute to the general welfare. The document concluded that companies should not be accountable only to their shareholders, but also the common good. It advocated putting more employee representatives on company boards.
With Senard taking the lead at the partnership, the role of Bollore, who started his career with Michelin, likely will be somewhat less prominent. Some Renault insiders have expressed concern that, as a former protege of Ghosn, Bollore might be met with distrust in Japan.
Bollore had been seen as Ghosn's heir apparent since February, when he was promoted to COO, and had been handling many of the day-to-day duties at Renault even before his boss's arrest. At that time, Ghosn pledged to use his final four years as CEO focused on a plan to "make the alliance irreversible."
A soft-spoken Frenchman from Brittany, Bollore 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 Michelin, working there for a number of years at the same time as Ghosn, who called him a "good candidate" to become Renault CEO.
It's not just the government that speaks highly of the Michelin CEO. Franck Daout, a representative of the CFDT union at Renault, said, "We would be supporting Senard as the leader who handles the alliance."