Renault board votes to replace CEO Thierry Bollore

Renault has chosen insider Clotilde Delbos to minimise further disruption at the scandal-hit carmaker.

Clotilde Delbos
Delbos is now one of the highest-ranking women in the car industry [File: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg]

Renault SA appointed Clotilde Delbos interim chief executive officer after ousting CEO Thierry Bollore, as the French carmaker seeks to turn the page on the Carlos Ghosn era.

Delbos, currently chief financial officer, will take over immediately from Bollore, making her one of the highest-ranking women in the auto industry. Renault’s board will begin looking for a permanent replacement, according to a statement Friday.

In naming Delbos, 52, Renault has chosen an insider in a bid to minimize further disruption at the carmaker, which has been struggling over the past year to overcome the shock of Ghosn’s arrest as well as a cooling of the global auto industry. She’ll be flanked by two new deputy managing directors, Olivier Murguet and Jose-Vincente de los Mozos.

Renault’s Delbos Joins GM’s Barra in Sparse Female Auto Ranks

“This comes as another blow for a company that urgently needs direction and stability,” Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst said in a note.

“We are worried that Renault’s competitive position will further erode in an automotive world that’s getting tougher by the day.”

The shuffle comes days after Nissan Motor Co., Renault’s partner in the world’s largest automotive alliance, picked a new leadership team. The moves in close succession suggest an effort by both companies to repair their relationship.

Deal Scrapped

Ghosn headed Renault and Nissan for years and held their two-decade partnership together until his arrest last November in Japan on charges of financial misconduct, which he has denied.

His downfall exposed poor corporate governance at Nissan and brought long-simmering tensions between the automakers to a boil.

Resolving their differences is a priority for Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard and would be a prerequisite to reviving merger discussions with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, scrapped earlier this year after Nissan failed to back a deal.

An overhaul of both Renault and Nissan’s management teams “could be a catalyst for the alliance to review the attractiveness of any deal with FCA,” Citigroup analysts Raghav Gupta-Chaudhary and Angus Tweedie said in a note Thursday.

Renault shares rose 4.5% by 12:16 p.m. in Paris trading, the biggest intraday move since August, trimming the loss this year to 2.7%.

Tense Relations

Bollore, 56, has had tense relations with Senard and has been viewed negatively by Nissan and the French government as a holdover from the Ghosn era, Bloomberg and other media have reported. The French state holds a 15% stake in Renault.

In an interview with Les Echos published on Thursday, Bollore condemned the move to oust him and defended his record. He said he found out through the press that Senard wanted him to leave and called on the French state, as a shareholder, not to destabilize Renault. He served as Ghosn’s No. 2 before replacing him in January.

“The brutality and totally unexpected nature of what’s taking place are astonishing,” Bollore told the newspaper. “On an operational level, I don’t see where the fault lies.”

Speaking earlier this week, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the government has full confidence in Senard to pick the management team he needs to carry out Renault’s strategy.

Head Hunter

The promotion of Delbos, while temporary, will make her one of the most senior female executives in the male-dominated auto industry after General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra. The French native joined Renault in 2012 and became CFO four years later.

One recruiting firm was already identified to carry out a search, said two people with knowledge of the matter. The company didn’t give a timetable for naming a permanent successor.

Following Ghosn’s arrest in November 2018, outsiders cited possible replacements including Carlos Tavares, a former Renault executive who is now CEO of rival automaker PSA Group, and Airbus SE’s former head of commercial aircraft, Fabrice Bregier, as well as Didier Leroy, a senior executive at Toyota Motor Corp.

“I’m not a candidate and I wasn’t contacted,” Leroy said by phone. “I’m very happy at Toyota and I have the trust of Akio Toyoda.” Toyoda is the president of Toyota.

The French government has been pushing Renault and Nissan for months to repair their broken relationship and strengthen their three-way alliance with Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa resigned in September following a scandal over pay, and this week the carmaker tapped Makoto Uchida, 53, the head of its China joint venture, as CEO, to work alongside new Chief Operating Officer Ashwani Gupta.

Source: Bloomberg