“Boundless: The Rise, Fall, and Escape of Carlos Ghosn”

The Tragic Story of a Successful Executive
Book Cover
Carlos Ghosn

A recent new book about Carlos Ghosn (age 68) who was born in Brazil, raised in Lebanon, knows four languages, has four citizenships, managed five international powerful car companies and wrote four books (many books were written about him) described him as “a hero of a Shakespearian novel.”

According to co-author Sean McLain: “A lot of people compare it to a Greek tragedy, but I would say it’s more like a Shakespearean tragedy, of a highly talented man with everything going for him, ending with a highly visible, slow-motion train wreck that everybody can see coming but still feels bad when it happens.”

Mclain, and co-author Nick Kostov have been specialized for decades in writing about the international car industry. McLain wrote: “I have been the automotive reporter in Japan for the past six years, so I was already covering Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru, and all the others when the story broke. It started out as a joint reporting project (with Kostov) because the story was based in France and Japan.”

What did Ghosn do?

As chairman of Japanese Nissan, he took $50 million from a business associate and used that money for a private side enterprise, and the Japanese arrested him for what they said was paying a bribe.

Why did he do that?

Ghosn strongly denied the allegations, saying the money documents were based on an internal benchmark he kept that came from job offers he received from other firms. He said, “I am wrongly accused and unfairly detained.” He added: “I understand the suspicion, but documents reviewed by internal and external lawyers, showed that I had no intent to violate the law."

Was that moral?

The book wrote: “He was a rich man who thought he should be richer, who, when he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, decided to run away, as opposed to fighting it in court.”

The book added: “But when you dig into it, you do see a man who is incredibly, almost unbelievably, talented in a lot of ways and whose heart was in the right place on most things in his life.”

In 2019, he escaped from Japan while waiting for his day in court. With help from an American private- security family, he was hidden in a musical instrument box that was shipped to Lebanon. Interpol issued a notice to Lebanon seeking his arrest. But he is a citizen of Lebanon, and Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan.

This is a description from the book about how he was smuggled from Japan to Lebanon:

“Carlos Ghosn contemplated the box in front of him. Freedom. It was a large black wooden crate with steel reinforcements on the edges, the sort of case a band would use to transport large speakers or instruments … Ghosn was listening to instructions from Michael Taylor, the former Green Beret he had hired to help maneuver the getaway … Taylor was explaining, step by step, what the auto titan would need to do: Climb into the crate, and stay still. Let the lid be lowered. Once secured, the trunk—and he—would be in motion. Inside his box, he would be loaded onto a private jet with the rest of the luggage … Ghosn was well versed in the private-jet lifestyle. He had flown everywhere on his Gulfstream as chief executive of two carmakers, Renault and Nissan. He was accustomed to flying high above the clouds, lounging on a plush leather seat. This would be a new experience.”

During his hay days, he had an annual salary of $18 million, with many perks. By French or Japanese standards, that was a lot of money. But in America, Alan Mulally at Ford made $26 million in 2010. David Zaslav at Discovery Communications made $42 million. Larry Ellison at Oracle made $70 million.

As the book shows, “his envy of U.S.-style paychecks is what brought him down.”

“Always full of himself, Ghosn lost sight of what made him a great executive as the years went on,” the book said, describing extravagant parties, including one at France’s Versailles Palace; pleasing his glamorous second wife, a Lebanese American; and flocking with the media which made him an envy of top CEOs who would rather deal in the dark.

Therefore, “When his luck expired, he had few friends.”

For the first time in 2010, Japan forced corporate directors who made more than $1 million a year to disclose their pay. Ghosn agreed to have his pay cut by 50 percent, to $9.6 million.

But, according to the book, “The prospect of having to return nearly half his pay stung him” and he started looking for a trick, and that was what led to his fall. Most probably, he will end up in jail, as illustrated by the fate of those who helped him to escape from Japan: Michael and Peter Taylor, the American father-and-son security team who masterminded the getaway, were extradited to Japan and are in prison. And his assistant who participated in his tricks, John Kelly, returned from Japan to the United States and was found guilty of helping Ghosn hide his full salary.

Ghosn is still in Lebanon, which he cannot leave without fear of being arrested. He still writes books and talks to the media.

But his problems are accumulating. In April, France issued an international warrant for his arrest for having helped funnel millions of dollars of Renault funds for his personal use, including the purchase of a 120-foot yacht. That was when he was running the French Renault car company.

Ghosn said the timing of this warrant was "suspicious,” that even the Japanese didn’t charge him for that. But he seemed to prefer to stand in front of a French court instead of a Japanese one.

In an interview that was published in the book, Ghosn was asked if he had any regrets. He said he had one: rejecting an offer to be CEO of American General Motors -- which would have paid him many more million dollars than Japanese Nissan.

--

Authors: Nick Kostov and Sean McLain

Publisher: Harper Business.

Pages: 320

Price: $29.99 Hardcover, $15.99 Kindle


Related Articles