Carlos Ghosn and the rigor of the Japanese state

Former Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn is released on bail from arrest in Japan
March 6, 2019: Former Nissan Motor Company Chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves his lawyer’s office in Tokyo after being released on bail from a three-month detention (source: dpa)
  • Carlos Ghosn’s status and foreign citizenship makes his trial a special case for Japan
  • The Japanese legal system emphasizes state supremacy and enforcing social norms
  • This philosophy’s collision with Western views could have international repercussions

Carlos Ghosn’s surprise arrest in Tokyo has spurred endless analyses of conflicting corporate cultures, different management strategies and clashing personal ambitions. Yet, scant attention has been paid to a broader and more significant issue brought to the fore by this sorry affair: the nature of the Japanese state.

At first sight, the case of the fallen boss of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA is a tale of boundless greed and uncontrolled power. Particularly in Europe, there has been widespread criticism of excessive pay for top managers, while in Japan the general norm dictates restraint in salary and bonus claims.

While the sums involved in Mr. Ghosn’s case may not appear shocking compared with the remuneration paid top executives in the United States, particularly in the financial and high-tech industries, it should be remembered that Carlos Ghosn, as a corporate employee, plays in a different league than the Silicon Valley tycoons. His behavior and the ways he sought to satisfy his lust for money were incompatible with the basic tenets of Japanese society.

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