Throughout his career, Carlos Ghosn portrayed himself as a singular figure, the driving force behind the creation of one of the world’s largest automotive groups—and the only person capable of keeping it together. In recent years he was clearly in legacy mode, preparing the groundwork for a deal that would finally bring Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA together under a single corporate umbrella. Had he achieved his larger goal of incorporating rival Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV into that alliance, he would have created the world’s biggest carmaker and been remembered as one of the handful of business visionaries—such as Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, or Gordon Moore—whose careers helped reshape their industries. For the foreseeable future, however, he will be known above all as something very different: a fugitive.
Ghosn’s audacious escape from Japan is the stuff of action movies. He apparently hid inside a large shipping box that airport inspectors in Osaka failed to X-ray and flew on a private jet to Istanbul and then on another to his homeland of Lebanon, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Japan. But he’s not quietly riding off into the sunset as the credits roll. Ghosn still has plenty of scores to settle—especially with Japanese officials who he says wrongly charged him with financial misdeeds with the help of his former Nissan colleagues. “I was brutally taken from my world as I knew it,” the former head of Nissan and Renault said in Beirut on Jan. 8, addressing a press conference for the first time since his arrest more than a year ago. “I was ripped from my family, my friends, from my communities, and from Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi.”
Displaying the energy that helped fuel his rise to the top of the global auto industry, Ghosn attempted to offer a point-by-point rebuttal of the accusations against him while trashing the recent performance of the carmakers and international alliance he formerly ran. Wearing a dark suit and red tie, his hair gone mostly gray, Ghosn took questions from reporters from around the world, shifting easily between English, French, Arabic, and Portuguese.
Throughout the press conference, Ghosn was combative and passionate at the podium, clearly relishing the opportunity to finally tell his side of the story without fear of legal repercussions. He arrived early and tried to start ahead of schedule. He displayed his legendary brashness, at one point attempting to group the reporters packed into the press conference by nationality. Ghosn veered between topics at a bewildering pace, asking repeatedly why his service to the company and Japan had been “repaid with evil.” He even compared the unpredictability of his arrest to the Pearl Harbor attack. In all, Ghosn spoke for about 2½ hours, and by the end seemed like he would have happily kept going if circumstances allowed.
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